Shell, ASML, AkzoNobel, ING and Philips. These are just a few of the 16 Dutch corporate giants that announced last week their pledge to foster cooperation between corporates and startups. As a part of this pledge they have committed themselves to work with more than 300 startups before may 2018. The reasoning is that collaboration between nimble startups and corporates that have scale and leverage will accelerate the pace of innovation in the Netherlands.
“The aim of COSTA is to speed up the rate of innovation in the Netherlands. One of the actions is to make knowledge and a tool available to entrepreneurs – big and small – that want to innovate more rapidly and successfully partner with startups for that purpose,” says Jan Kees de Jager, CFO of KPN and former State Secretary of Finance. Adding: “Costa is a long term initiative that seeks to make the Netherlands the most prosperous country in the world. Startups are key to fulfilling this ambition.” De Jager is currently also the ambassador of COSTA.
For COSTA collaboration between startups and corporates can take many forms. They can for instance develop a new product together. Corporates can serve as a ‘special client’ or operate as the sales and distribution channel of a startup.
The knowledge and know-how created through COSTA will be made publicly available for other companies to accelerate their own innovation initiatives. A question that the organisation aims to get answered through research is how companies can be structured such that cooperation with startups is done more easily. Another question COSTA aims to tackle is how startups can be connected with the right person, which is often a notoriously difficult, long and frequently very frustrating process for startup founders.
“Unfortunately there are quite some misunderstandings when it comes to corporate startup collaboration. Both parties have for instance different expectations about the partnership or one of the two parties is just not ready yet to innovate together. The purpose of COSTA is to get rid of these misunderstandings and prepare corporates as well as startups for a fruitful partnership”, says Thomas Grosfeld, manager COSTA at VNO NCW/MKB Nederland, the Dutch employer organisation responsible for the program.
An example of a corporate being ready is that it has a department or staff dedicated to working with startups. Grosfeld: “This organisation should then have enough leeway to work freely with startups, but at the same time have the commitment from the executive board of the company.”
COSTA also aims to develop tools to ease the process of collaboration. One of them is the ‘Corporate Startup Readiness Tool.’ A tool that gauges whether a corporate is ready to collaborate with startups.
It’s not clear whether all the COSTA corporates also invest in startups and whether they are interested in idea, early and growth stage startups. “Some of them invest”, says De Jager. KPN Ventures, the investment arm of KPN, focuses on early growth-stage investments (series A/B) in European high growth companies. De Jager: “Our investments typically range from 0.5 to 2.5 million euro for minority stakes, building long-term partnerships, ultimately aiming for external exits, not acquisitions.”
KPN also has a New Buisiness team that focuses on cooperation with earlier stage startups as co-creators. Or KPN takes on the role of launching customer, supplier or distributor.
COSTA an initiative launched in 2016 by former special envoy of StartupDelta Neelie Kroes and De Jager. Besides the 15 corporates PortXL, TNO and Vopak and IBM Nederland, CVN, Gemeente Eindhoven Brainport, Erasmus Universiteit en ECE are also involved. The program was managed by Brainport-Eindhoven. The idea is that more corporates and medium-sided companies join the initiative. Here is the full list of companies that have signup until now, their startup contactperson and website. For the direct email addresses of all the startup contactpersons download this file here.
Coert van Lare
Rob van der Werf
Marie-José van den Boomgaard
Dutch Railways (NS)
Rocco van den Berg
Port of Rotterdam
Thales Nederland BV