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5 ways to engage with the startup community

Mona Vernon  Chief Technology Officer, Thomson Reuters Labs

Mona Vernon  Chief Technology Officer, Thomson Reuters Labs

A growing number of companies around the world recognize that large corporations and startups can make great partners. Major industry players are purchasing or investing in startups to help advance their strategy in our increasingly data-driven world (the auto sector is a great example). However, investment is just one part of a successful startup partnership framework. Here are five other ways established businesses can seek out and proactively engage with the startup community, none of which are mutually exclusive –  in fact at Thomson Reuters, we’re incorporating all of them into the way we do business.

Partner with academia

Partnering with academic institutions offers many of the same benefits as engaging with startups: the ability to tap into fresh thinking, research and innovative ideas, and also recruit talent.

Some of the ways companies can get involved with academic institutions include developing a joint research program or providing research support (whether through funding, or providing data, content or technology); sponsoring an academic event like a panel discussion, student hackathon or a class project; or being part of a university co-op or rotation program.

Thomson Reuters has several such academic partnerships, including being a founding member of MIT Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), several programs with the University of Waterloo such as the establishment of a Thomson Reuters-funded Research Chair in Data Cleaning from Theory to Practice; and a joint venture with the Data Science Institute at Imperial College London to drive faster innovation in FinTech and RegTech through collaborative research projects.

These kinds of partnerships are mutually beneficial. As Professor Yi-ke Guo, director of the Data Science Institute at Imperial noted when we launched the joint venture, “We know that we can achieve more if we work collaboratively, that’s why we boast a vibrant community of partners from across the globe. This latest partnership with Thomson Reuters will present new opportunities to unlock hidden insights, drive forward innovation, and create value by harnessing data. We look forward to working with them in this important area.”

Co-locate or join a startup community

If you want to get closer to startups, another way is to get closer, literally. Many cities around the world have built technology hubs in the form of a particular district, neighborhood or “innovation corridor,” an association or a planned startup community. These hubs offer established companies inspiration, collaboration, shared resources, technology-focused events and of course, access to talent.

Thomson Reuters is embedded in several of these startup hot spots. Communitech in the Waterloo region in Canada is a thriving community of 1,000 tech companies, from startups to major global players and is home to Thomson Reuters Labs – Waterloo region. Our lab sits within an open and collaborative space alongside new market entrants as well as the labs of many already-successful companies like TD Bank, Google and Microsoft.

Our Singapore lab is part of the most vibrant FinTech community in Asia, which is giving us great opportunities to partner with the many specialist accelerators in the region, including Startupbootcamp FinTech, through which we can connect and work with curated startups in meaningful ways.

Thomson Reuters is also a founding member of the Crypto Valley Association in Zug, Switzerland, which brings together startups and tech companies who work with blockchain and distributed ledger technologies.

Sponsor startups through an incubator or accelerator program

Another route for engaging with startups is through incubator or accelerator programs, in which your company brings early stage companies in house and provides them with office resources, subject matter expertise, training and other support to help fuel their growth.

Just last month, Thomson Reuters Labs launched our Zurich-based Incubator program, with startups Open Mineral and WealthArc as its first residents. These early stage businesses are being given office space, mentoring, access to Thomson Reuters data and technology, and other specific support as requested, for a duration of six months. Of course we benefit, too: the program enables us to learn about transformative technologies, explore co-creation ideas and work alongside an entrepreneurial talent pool.

Behind the scenes at the Thomson Reuters Incubator

Be a connector

Businesses that have been around for a while have something most startups want and need: a strong network. Whether it’s potential customers, business partners or employees, or access to industry experts and forums, established companies have established relationships – and are in a position to make critical connections for startups. For the early stage business, an introduction via a successful company provides credibility. For the more mature business, the relationship shows you’re staying connected to new technologies and ideas – which is likely very important to that network you’ve built.

There are countless ways to be a connector. You can mentor startups, make introductions to potential customers and more importantly become a customer yourself. You can also co-sponsor networking events, invite representatives from the startup to events at your company or industry events you attend, and make important introductions.

Our relationship with Legal Geek, a community of UK LawTech startups, is largely in a connector capacity. We view ourselves as a means for the LawTech community to engage with the Legal community, and we work closely with Legal Geek on conferences and other events, as well as joint projects (that we share with our respective networks) like our recent UK LawTech white paper and startup map.

Build your own internal startup mechanism

While there’s much to be gained from engaging with startups on the outside, you can also achieve many of the same benefits by building your own internal startup mechanism. Whether it’s a specific function, team, program, project or even employee innovation contest – established businesses can foster a mini-startup environment within their larger business (a/k/a “intrapreneurship”).

Thomson Reuters incorporates a lot of intrapreneurship into our business through activities like hackathons and innovation contests, but our Thomson Reuters Labs is perhaps our best example. Functioning like startups within Thomson Reuters, the Labs were created to identify and test new business ideas through quick, agile and collaborative experimentation with customers and both internal and external partners. Located in Boston, London, Waterloo Region, Zurich Region, Cape Town, Singapore and San Francisco, the Labs are strategically positioned within the largest global innovation ecosystems, and have already made a big impact on our business with numerous product and technology innovations, as well as external partnerships.

Right places, right time

At Thomson Reuters, partnership is one of our core values, and we believe that engaging with the academic and startup community is critical to our ongoing success. With a growing network of global startups and innovators by our side, it’s truly exciting to be thinking about, and working on, what’s next.

Learn more

This is the latest instalment in an ongoing series on engaging with startups. For more information, check out our previous posts:

…and watch this space for more related features. To learn more about Thomson Reuters Labs, visit our website and check out this video on our Incubator.

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