The bet of traditional companies in partnerships with startups to advance in the field of innovation has been growing. Between May 2020 and June this year, the number of agreements of this type practically doubled, going from 13,433 to 26,348. The total value of closed contracts rose from BRL 800 million to BRL 2.2 billion – a growth of 175%, according to the platform 100 Open Startups. “The approach between companies and entrepreneurs has been growing year after year, but it has gained even more momentum with the pandemic and the need for digitalization”, says the co-founder of the innovation platform, Rafael Levy.
These numbers show a clear change in profile. If, in the past, the development of new products and solutions came from R&D programs and laboratories created inside the companies, today a good part of the adopted innovations comes from abroad.
The speed of technological change has been one of the engines of this movement. In recent years, companies have understood that, if they were closed in their environments, they would have more difficulties to innovate and could lose competitiveness against competitors. Typically, the time and money spent within companies’ research centers is greater when compared to exploring the startup ecosystem, made up of more than 15,000 companies, experts say.
This year, the number of companies seeking startups to form partnerships jumped from 2,825 to 4,982 – an increase of 76%. “We were very impressed with the growth. And now we realize that it’s not just multinationals and big corporations. We’re starting to see medium-sized companies starting this process,” says Levy. This brings more competitiveness to the market, creates new opportunities and encourages the opening of startups. It’s a virtuous circle.
Journey. The numbers show that, going forward, the innovation journey will no longer be done alone. Executives and entrepreneurs have found it easier to innovate together than separately, and the path is shorter. “Today I believe that almost all midsize companies and above will have experience with startups in the coming months”, he says Luiz Ponzoni, partner of PwC Brazil.
In the case of the beverage giant Ambev, this experience was repeated more than 200 times last year, double the number of contracts signed in the previous five years. The company took first place in the ranking of the 6th edition of the “100 Open Corps 2021” as the company that had the greatest engagement with startups – in 2020, the champion was Natura. “This leadership comes from a context of transformation within the company, whether digital or cultural. We are in a world where we need to have open doors for innovation”, says the technology director at Ambev, Edward Horai.
He says that Ambev currently has 11 partnership, acceleration and innovation programs. In one of them, the strategy was to listen to what startups had to offer in terms of solutions, without limitations of areas and themes. in another, called 100+ Accelerator, the objective is focused on ESG – the English acronym for environmental, social and governance practices. Startups need to bring solutions involving issues of climate change, sustainable agriculture, circular packaging and water management. In the two programs alone, 26 companies were chosen to continue developing the solutions, says Horai.
The executive says that the idea of ??making music lives last year, during social isolation, came from a partnership with startup Winnin. “Through artificial intelligence, it helps provide insights that allow us to follow what is happening in the world. That’s when we had the idea of ??doing the lives.”
Hiring. At Ambev, as in the entire market, there is no standard model for partnerships with startups. Horai says that sometimes companies just want support to develop their products and ideas. But it can be a co-creation and a commercial deal too. There are still other options, such as providing service and purchasing the product.
According to “100 Open Startup”, around 80% of open innovation agreements (with partnerships) involve the transfer of resources from the larger company to the startup. The average value of contracts increased from R$140 thousand in 2020 to R$270 thousand this year. “This process is simple, ingenious and dynamic. But it requires not only monitoring, but also greater integration with the startup”, he says Marcus Ayres, director of industry and innovation at the consultancy Roland Berger.
According to him, open innovation has a strong growth path in Brazil in the coming years. That’s because, until then, this was a world limited to large corporations and that is now beginning to be discovered by more companies. For many of them, however, the model will have to be a little different, says Ayres. Not all companies are able to build large structures for this. “But we have sebrae, FAPESP and Senai, in addition to chambers of commerce, which can be a channel for finding partners.” Besides, he adds, it is possible to look for other groups that have the same problem and try a solution together. The important thing is to seek innovation.
Rodolfo Santos, president of the BMG Uptech, innovation arm of BMG Group, agree. “We have to join forces and make the best of each one. A big company is like an ocean liner, difficult to maneuver. A startup is like a yacht, more flexible.” The company, which occupies the third position in the 100 Open Corp ranking for the second consecutive year, has already invested in more than 80 startups. And it should continue at this pace for years to come.
This is also the forecast of the steelmaker ArcelorMittal. The company maintained its second position in the ranking with solutions focused on customer problems, such as credit; in logistics for retail; and also in the area of ??health for employees. Second Paula Harraca, director of Strategy, ESG, Innovation and Business Transformation for the company in Latin America and Mineração Brasil, today 70% of innovations made in partnerships are focused on the company’s “core business”. Another 30% are related to new markets and business frontiers.