Collective Innovation, Collaborative Success!

(This post is part of the Think Next thought leadership series)

When it comes to disruptive innovations, chances are that the first thing that comes to mind is a genius and the ‘light bulb’ moment preceding the discovery. However, at Microsoft, we choose to think differently — we think partnerships. We leverage partnerships to foster creativity and bring about disruption, as proved by our historical footprint. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to assume that we naturally endorse the concept ‘great partnerships bring about great inventions’, much like Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, and India’s very own Bansal and Bansal, to name a few. 

Bringing this ethos into focus is our flagship event — Think Next — which demonstrates that innovation and collaboration cannot operate in silos. On the contrary, they need to feed into and build on each other — a point best illustrated by Diageo’s recent collaboration with our alumni Yellow Messenger, to build world’s first bartender chatbot

The need of the hour is that enterprises adopt the ‘Let me learn from you, and partner to succeed’ as opposed to ‘Let me learn from you and copy it’ formula. At Think Next this year, we saw many CXOs, along with ecosystem thought-leaders and entrepreneurs emphasizing on this and accepting that one of the most critical factors affecting businesses today is the holistic collaboration between enterprises and startups.

Elucidating on the importance of startup-enterprise partnerships, one of Think Next’s panelists, Judson Althoff, EVP, Worldwide Commercial Business, Microsoft highlighted the emergence of ‘Five New World Aspirations’ that drive corporations to engage with startups. These include innovative offerings for the business, enhancing the customer engagement paradigm, optimizing operations using IT and intelligence, among others.


Naturally then the question that comes into focus is how can startups and enterprises leverage each other’s combined strengths to access a wider market? If you ask me, the answer lies in a simple solution — the startup metric. All that startups and enterprises need to do is adopt this simple, result-oriented tool into their existing organizational structure.  

The two-pronged solution

The startup metric, an insightful concept conceived at Microsoft, showcases how enterprises and startups can gain each other’s trust instead of focusing on individualistic, self-serving needs. It comprises two vital elements:

  • First order — focuses on the value a company extends to a startup to build a sustainable relationship. Once the startup sees that the enterprise truly cares about their progress, the partnership starts to cement
  • Second order — stresses on the value the startup provides to the company (after the first order is achieved) so that both can work together and scale new heights

Simply put, to strengthen the startup-enterprise partnership, corporates need to reach out to startups, analyze them, and engage with them. A good example is Microsoft’s collaboration with Wipro. Both companies decided to embark in a year-long engagement to understand the mutual values that could be derived from each other before formalizing the partnership.  

The new normal: disruptive partnerships 

Microsoft has engaged with Wipro in a four-way partnership — the other two stakeholders being startups and customers. While the collaboration has its own advantages, it is layered with multiple complexities. To begin with, it is imperative that the partnership is crafted as a win-win relationship for each of its stakeholders. Additionally, multiple needs must be addressed simultaneously. While Wipro ensures that the partnership proves valuable to their customers, we at Microsoft have to make sure that the startups gain from this partnership as well. 


This brings to mind several pertinent questions. What kind of distinct, but equally integral benefits can each stakeholder bring to the table? How can they leverage each other’s strengths, and optimally work with each other? 

The enterprise advantage: scaling up, not starting up

Startups aren’t the only ones that bring creativity and credibility to the fore; enterprises play a vital role as well. Enterprises:

  • bring a level of trust and an in-depth understanding of how to close a deal
  • nurture startups and provide them with a ‘seal of approval’ through in-house accelerator programs and incubators
  • help address scalability and funding issues

Several enterprises are now setting up their own innovation labs, however, if they don’t engage with the external ecosystem, they run the risk of losing out on rich, robust solutions that come with diversity. The lesson here is that enterprises need to collaborate, not compete, with startups for long-term success. 

The startup DNA: inspiring and path-breaking

While enterprises bring with them extensive experience and credibility, startups are synonymous with creativity and disruption. Startups have a propensity to:

  • innovate much faster due to their nimble, agile nature
  • think out-of-the-box and implement new ideas not vested in the existing business model

However, this agility and innovativeness does not make them fail-proof; a single drawback can force them to shut shop. Hence, it is critical to carefully orchestrate the enterprise-startup journey. To arrive at a favorable destination, startups need to monitor the speed with which they take projects while also being picky about kind of projects they select in the initial month. After all, success breeds success, and this is as true for startups as for any other business entity today. 

Fostering startup-enterprise partnerships organically

India’s growth footprint indicates that the enterprise-startup alliance is somewhere between a rock and a hard place. As predicted, corporates and startups continue to think of ‘me’ before ‘us.’ Judson Althoff notes, “Companies are at different stages of maturity. This is an opportunity for us to reach out and help enterprises see the truth in their business through startup solutions.” Consequently, ecosystem enablers need to collaborate, connect, and derive value from each other to help business environments grow through partnerships — which is the core intent of Microsoft Accelerator.

Even at Think Next. we conducted multiple activities that drive greater engagement. These included two ‘Market Access Program’ (MAP), for ecommerce and marketing technologies, and a panel discussion on corporate-startup partnerships with Judson Althoff, K.R. Sanjiv (CTO, Wipro), Aftab Mathur (Temasek), Pari Natarajan (CEO, Zinnov) and Balaji Suryanarayana (CustomerXPs).

For us, the primary objective is to create an ecosystem driven by thought leadership, elevating conversations and learnings across entities. Needless to say, if we’re not being productive and participative, we’re not creating sustainable businesses and symbiotic relationships — the key to any economy’s success.

 Ready to Dance with Giants? Apply at Microsoft Accelerator India