Partner Highlight: Startgrid
Q&A with Peter Gardner, Startgrid Founder & CEO
Peter Gardner has been involved in innovation for over 20 years, initially as a venture capitalist helping early stage entrepreneurs build market-leading businesses. More recently Peter founded Startgrid (@startgridco), a platform helping enterprises find startups with valuable technology and match those solutions to internal teams where they’re needed to fuel growth.
Let’s start with hearing a bit about the Startgrid origin story: what problem was identified, and how is Startgrid’s solution unique?
I spent 20 years as a venture capitalist and was a partner at a firm that raised the majority of its capital from large enterprises. I watched them struggle with the shift from an R&D-driven innovation model to a hybrid model of R&D and partnering with external innovators. It became clear that the innovation teams in these companies were facing unique business challenges when it came to building and scaling startup ecosystems to meet the needs of their organizations, and they needed software to manage the process.
Startgrid provides that solution. Our platform is unique in that we think about the problem as a flow of work: from managing relationships in the startup ecosystem to identifying emerging technology to matching potential solutions with the needs of internal teams. We’ve also spent a lot of time focused on the best way to capture market intelligence and measure results to continuously improve on this “innovation supply chain.”
Startgrid works with some of the world’s largest enterprises and aims to be the “backbone of innovation efforts.” What would you say are the most common challenges corporations face regarding innovation?
Many innovation teams we work with are relatively new, and they’re focused on what they need to do to establish credibility with the business units and the management team to demonstrate the value they bring to the business. The majority of large enterprises have recognized they need to innovate differently to keep pace with shifts in technology and many CEOs are driving this change from the top. However, delivering a better way to innovate requires execution across the company, and that involves culture change, trust building, changes to process and tools to make it successful at scale. This type of systemic change takes time, and innovation teams often face unrealistic expectations.
On the flip side, do you have an example of a client where the innovation function has really nailed creating and managing the innovation pipeline?
We’re working with a large food and beverage company that has done a great job of defining their pipeline process. What’s more impressive is that their innovation function and business units are highly distributed, and they still manage to keep the process flowing. One thing we’ve learned from customers like this is the value of clearly defining the pipeline process with input from the internal teams the innovation function is serving. While innovation requires creativity and agility, we’ve observed it’s a process that most often drives outcomes. We’ve also found that investing time in defining a clear process improves reporting and enables innovation teams to better communicate their value to leadership.
Part of the Startgrid solution is helping teams manage deal flow. In your experience, is more deal flow always better, or is there a point where quality is more important?
My view is that quality trumps quantity. You need enough deal flow to have a sense of the landscape and create alternatives. However, being overwhelmed by deal flow limits your ability to invest time in working with the startups that are the most strategic and have the greatest potential. One of the biggest challenges we see from customers is cutting through the clutter to find the startups that are the best fit. Software plays an important role in solving this problem, as does a network of partners (e.g., VCs, accelerators and firms like Silicon Foundry) that can help connect an enterprise to the best opportunities.
Is there a specific vertical or industry you’ve found is leading the pack in terms of innovation?
One of the things that has come as a surprise to me is the diversity of our customer base. Fast-moving technology like AI, cloud and IoT are impacting all industries to some degree. Having said that, certain industries seem to be feeling the pressure of technology change more acutely. In our experience, financial services, automotive, and consulting tend to be particularly active in building startup ecosystems at the moment. In addition, we’re working with companies in food and beverage, life sciences and manufacturing. My view is that building startup ecosystems is and will remain an important competitive strategy, and is a requirement for innovating across all industries.