Pilots are a popular method of technology verification by corporations. They allow verifying if a startup is worth working with and what their solution can do. Without such a trial, not many corporations will decide to enable a startup to operate on a larger scale. Successful piloting requires much preparation. Here’s how to get started.

Preparation on the corporate side

A pilot program with startups for corporations is usually a separate project. It will require resources to bring the right results. Essential elements of the project that you need to plan are:

  1. Determine the purpose – why are you doing pilots? It is the most critical question. It will determine the selection of appropriate resources. Your motivation can be: access to innovation, improving efficiency, choosing an investment, or CSR targets.
  2. Identify interesting targets – determine what projects you are looking for. You can indicate general technology areas or specific challenges. The broader the information, the greater the number of projects. But also their lower quality. As the number of details increases, the range of exciting projects will narrow.
  3. Plan resources – verify what human, financial, and infrastructure resources will be necessary. Pilots are relatively small projects, so you should adjust the budget to it.
  4. Present a game plan – show step by step what a startup needs to do to get the conversation started. Indicate the criteria for project selection. Plan a preliminary implementation schedule. This list will make it easy to verify if the pilot will be attractive for the startup.
  5. Find the right partners – not all projects need to be done alone. Consider which partners from the ecosystem can help you find startups. Among them, there will undoubtedly be those who can support the pilot process and have experience in it.
  6. Evaluate projects – once you have gathered the projects, evaluate them and send feedback. Invite competing projects to interviews to compare their offer and commitment. It will bring good final results. 
  7. Use the trial period – if you don’t know which project to choose, take a few for a test run. Give the teams and your organization time to get to know each other and prepare for the pilot. Don’t start the pilot before you have everything in place.
  8. Plan the pilot – agree with the startup on the pilot framework, timeline, milestones, and further cooperation rules. You will need to find the right project manager. Also, determine the financial issues necessary for the project.
  9. Don’t change the rules – avoid changing the rules during the game. If you do make changes, they should be the result of the achieved results. Potential changes should be agreed upon by both parties as to the best for the pilot.
  10. Test and conclude – after the implementation is complete, write down what worked well and what didn’t in the process. Conclude as to what could be improved.
  11. Evaluate the effects of the pilot – check if you achieved the goals. Present further steps in the cooperation to the startup. If you can’t continue partnership, indicate why.

This game plan will allow you to prepare solidly for early-stage activities with startups. It will enable you to eliminate the most common project risks. At the same time, you are ensuring a high level of work and professionalism.

Preparations on the part of the startup

Doing a pilot with a corporation can open the way to extensive cooperation. However, in this process, startups can also mess up a lot. Sometimes through wrong planning, sometimes because of overconfidence. So it’s worthwhile to prepare wisely for activities with the big fish. 

  1. Make a list of potential partners – think of ideal partners from the corporate world. Develop a shortlist and see who can put you in touch with these companies.
  2. Verify the usefulness of your technology – see what innovation activities the company is doing. Assess where you can give the most value. Don’t try to get into every single company. Sometimes doing a pilot may require too much change. Then it is not worth doing such a project.
  3. Evaluate the partner’s experience – check if the corporation has already worked with startups. Check if there are any publications on this subject. See if there is no competition on the list of partners. If so, your chances of getting a pilot will be tiny. You can also use the Startup Collaboration Readiness scale to check how well prepared is your partner.
  4. Determine the purpose of the pilot – think about why you want to do a pilot. Are you looking for markets or a technology partner to share knowledge and experience? Do you wish to make money or start a long-term partnership? What do you want to prove by doing a pilot?
  5. Plan your product development – think about what you can do in a pilot project of 3 or 6 months? Where can you lead your technology? What are you sure you can’t do? How does the project affect the schedule of other work and projects?
  6. Get in touch with your partner – show yourself to the corporation. Present your offer in the form of a presentation and ask for a meeting. Try to verify what problems are crucial for the partner. If you can solve them, communicate it.
  7. Present the benefits – use the language of benefits for the partner. Don’t get too enthusiastic about the technology. Share experience instead of boasting. Don’t assume you know everything better. There may be many people in the corporation who have much experience in this area.
  8. Don’t promise miracles – don’t say you can do everything. If something does not fit into the development’s overall vision and requires too many concessions, let the project go. If you don’t deliver the solution on time, further cooperation may not be possible. It is better to do a little less than embark on a project that you can’t handle.
  9. Secure a budget for the pilot – remember that you will work best if you have enough funds to finance the pilot. You do not have to worry about payments from the partner who will be willing to make a transfer after the work is completed. 
  10. Plan further actions – at the planning stage of the project, determine scenarios for further cooperation. If, after a short pilot, you can immediately move to commercialization, that’s great. If it will be the beginning of a much larger project, what will be involved.
  11. Managerial reserve – be sure that you can do the project on time. Expect problems that will delay the work. Remember that you do not know everything. Take into account external factors beyond the control of either party e.g., COVID-19.
  12. Work and ask questions – take action. If you do not know something, ask questions. When corporations and startups collaborate, there are no stupid questions.

Collaborating with an extensive partner is likely to be much more challenging than you think. In the case of Space3ac, only 10% of the teams that applied to the program made it to the stage of talking about the pilot’s details. The pool of those who were allowed to work was smaller. Even fewer companies were able, as a result of the pilot, to pursue commercial operations. Many of them succeeded because they stuck to guidance from us. Be like them 🙂


Author: Wojciech Drewczyński

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