The key to attracting better startups? It's defining your partner brand.

As more and more slide decks on the benefits of startup partnerships make it to corporate board rooms, more and more corporates are seeking to collaborate with the burgeoning opportunities in startupland.

All those doing so face the same problem: how do corporates attract, filter and retain the world’s best startups?


Learning from those in HR

At Co:cubed, we believe that corporates will move from an internal organisation of people to an outward facing network of partnerships. You could say that partners are the new people, and if this is the case then we all have a lot to learn from HR.

In order to attract, filter and retain the world’s best employees, corporates spend a great deal of time and money nurturing employer brands. PepsiCo, for example, have an entire marketing department solely dedicated to improving its worldwide employer brand. It sits within PepsiCo’s HR function and is responsible for initiatives such as the PepsiCo University.

To attract great startups – and not just those gunning speculative emails into the inboxes of every innovation leader they find on LinkedIn – corporates need to emulate the approach of those in HR. They need to create their partner brand.


The four benefits of a partner brand

The benefits of creating a complimentary, self-contained sub-brand with the aim of attracting new partners and driving innovation are numerous.

  1. Most obvious is the fact that, as soon as you name something, you give birth to it. You have a new entity under which you can house a coherent operation. One startup recently told us they'd had 42 simultaneous conversations with people in one company. With a partner brand, employees attempting to develop new partnerships are part of an official, cohesive entity with resources, a roadmap and a prosperous future.

  2. With a partner brand, corporates become more attractive to the most in-demand startups on everyone's radar. An established partner brand signals to quality startups how seriously a corporate takes its partnerships. To a startup, which is more attractive: a corporate with a clearly defined platform dedicated to making partnerships succeed, or a corporate with no apparent entity whatsoever?

  3. To startups yet to make it onto corporate radars, a clearly defined partner brand is a solid front door. Exciting and undiscovered startups can walk up to the front door and confidently knock – where they might otherwise head elsewhere after discovering a moat.

  4. Defining a partner brand kickstarts cultural transformation. A clearly defined partner brand helps communicate to staff that, as well as organic and acquired growth, their company pursues collaborative growth. The shift allows innovation to involve more people, which helps corporates squeeze more juice from partnership potential.

Example: adidas BaseX

Following in the footsteps of Unilever (with Unilever Foundry) and Telefonica (with Wayra), Co:cubed worked with multinational sportswear manufacturer adidas to develop and launch their partner brand; adidas BaseX.

The brand’s introductory video is nothing short of a war cry. “We’re here for the curious,” the narrative begins. “The adventurous, the bold, the ones who explore new horizons, who make their own path… We need partners who can take us to the future faster. Base X is our platform for collaboration.”

The launch is the first step of a longer journey, but it’s a line in the sand. It shows adidas are open for business, and are looking to collaborate.


An opportunity to edge ahead

With more and more corporates pursuing collaborative growth, defining a partner brand is becoming increasingly important – and, by that, we don't simply mean coming up with a name and a logo.


A partner brand might be a front door, but the door cannot lead to an empty house. Partner brands need a stable supporting infrastructure – things like simplified legal contracts, or startup friendly payment terms. They need to be designed to attract the best startups out there.


Standing out as a corporate partner is becoming increasingly important.

As is the case with consumer and employer brands, a clearly defined partner brand ensures corporates stand out.

CO:CUBED Ltd

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