Creating an unfair advantage: Three reasons to build your next startup with a corporate partner

05 August 2020

Does corporate venture building sound like a contradiction to you? Sure, corporates have a lot of resources, but they are also thought of as slow, bureaucratic, and traditional. Ventures on the other hand are dynamic, innovative, and constantly striving for growth.

And yet, large corporates have a 1 in 8 chance of building viable, large scale new businesses (see this HRB article). On the other hand, 90% of start-ups fail.  

At ENGIE Factory, our Venture Build Programme combines the resources, knowledge, and networks of ENGIE Group with the passion and drive of founders to build innovative, sustainable, and scalable ventures that contribute to the zero-carbon transition. It is this combination that leads to an ‘unfair advantage’ for our ventures.

Here are three reasons why we believe our model works.

Reason 1: We solve real problems

The number one reason that startups fail is because there is no market need. Rather than being solution led, ENGIE Factory’s Venture Build Programme starts with understanding the customer.

Large corporates are successful because they have processes for making decisions based on data and robust analysis. We use this same rigor to ensure that our founders fully explore customer and market needs while using hypothesis and experiments to test assumptions.  

Our Venture Build Programme is based on the Lean Start-up methodology which, provides a structured approach to identifying the most important factors that must be either true, or solvable, if the startup is to achieve success. Once these hypotheses have been identified, we work with founders to design experiments that can effectively generate data that either supports a hypothesised path or does not.

Throughout this process of iteration, we also use tools such as the Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas to ensure that our ventures are based on a strong, data-backed commercial foundation.

All of this means that our ventures solve real problems and are well positioned to accelerate decarbonisation at scale.

Reason 2: Access knowledge, networks and resources

Unless you have a long and established career in energy (and even then), launching a startup in this space is daunting. The energy industry is complex and often highly technical which, leads to a high barrier to entry. But this high barrier to entry also means that there are immediate opportunities for innovation and disruption for those with an understanding of an industry and the right network and resources.

Our programme is designed for founders without a background in energy. We leverage ENGIE knowledge, networks and resources to help our founders rapidly get up to speed with energy needs and challenges in their chosen focus area and industry.

Each ENGIE Factory venture has a C-suite sponsor and access to ENGIE people. This provides both strategic insight and technical expertise. During the venture validation process, our venture founders also have access to ENGIE customers to test their hypothesis and value propositions.

A great example of this is one of our portfolio ventures, BillionBricks. BillionBrick’s mission is to end homelessness and before collaborating with us, the founder did not have any experience in energy. Through working closely with the ENGIE Factory team, we were able to jointly develop a commercial model where affordable housing communities could be financed through integrating rooftop solar energy generation. BillionBricks is now working closely with ENGIE’s solar team and its partners to build and finance the first community in the Philippines.    

Reason 3: A partner for growth  

Finally, building a startup with a corporate partner means they are invested in your growth.

At ENGIE Factory, we invest a significant amount of time and funding into our ventures throughout the venture building lifecycle: in the ideation and venture validation process, by providing seed investment and in the commercialisation of the venture, post investment. Our success, therefore, is tied to how well our startups scale.

All our ventures are strategically aligned ENGIE’s core business. This alignment could be realised by creating upselling and cross-selling opportunities with existing clients, openly sharing data and market information or accelerating entry into new markets and customer segments. ENGIE and our ventures therefore have natural incentives to work together for mutual benefit and serve as natural partners for growth.

We believe these factors provide ENGIE Factory ventures with an unfair advantage. We build our ventures by combining the best of both worlds: the entrepreneurial skillset and the established corporate assets, leading to much higher chances of success. If you are serious about success and want to build smart, then you should build with a corporate too.