5 things that major companies can learn from startups

Is the world passing by major corporations? In today’s business world, all companies – including the larger, more traditional ones – need to reinvent themselves. Increasingly, major profits and added value for the customer are created in networks.

There are more energetic startups in Finland than ever – which is a good thing. Co-operation between major companies and small startups is also becoming more common. There is no need for large cap companies to shun or fear startup collaboration as a disruption – it has so much to offer in terms of product development and operating models.

  1. The operating culture of major companies is often based on control. Vital energy is used for creating operating guidelines and keeping the company’s internal operations running. Projects carried out together with startups open up whole new worlds – there are other ways of doing things!
  2. Large corporations also still strongly feature various silos and boundaries between sectors and organisations. This type of thinking is foreign to most startups. Anything is possible! An attitude like that would guarantee many major Finnish companies that are in decline a very different position in the future.
  3. Startups also have excellent opportunities to create change in the business environment – through fresh eyes. As I see it, by having startups assess their operating models, many companies could receive new insight into their operating environment.
  4. Not to mention product and service development. Expertise is utilized more flexibly and services are brought out much faster. Through its co-operation with small companies, Ilmarinen can also develop solutions to customers’ everyday problems in an agile manner.

This is something that Ilmarinen has been promoting over the past few years. At its best, startup collaboration offers major companies a strategic resource: a tool for renewal and growth. The “starting up” of a large company, wisely and carefully, guarantees operations that are more agile and cross silo borders.

Creating value in networks is actually not such a novel concept. Ecosystems have been called value networks throughout history. Platform thinking and the sharing economy have been practiced according to co-operative and mutuality principles for hundreds of years in both the trade and insurance sectors. In fact, even a farming village’s sole harvester is a product, the result of crowd funding, a sharing economy service and part of an ecosystem. Startup culture is thus ingrained into the very structures of the Finnish economy. It only needs to be properly put to use.

Simultaneously, it is worth remembering that not all operating models in major corporations need rethinking. There is a point to traditional management models. As a company grows, special expertise needs to be nurtured and so do basic operations – particularly if being listed on a stock exchange one day is part of the plan. A traditional line organisation ensures that financial statements are drawn up, employment contracts are made and decision-making is documented as required by legislation.

Major corporations cannot put out products in an unfinished state – some things that are acceptable for startups are not acceptable for well-known companies. A company like Ilmarinen needs to be continuously aware of regulations and corporate responsibility issues – things that are not necessarily high on the agendas of startups.

Despite these differences, there are many things that startups and major companies have in common. This is why I strongly urge companies to get their hands dirty in the startup spirit and begin to learn from one another how to reach their goals. This may be the most important thing to remember in the co-operation between startups and major companies:

  1. Get cracking now!

Pekka Puustinen
Chief Customer Officer

In 2017, Ilmarinen, a Finnish pension insurance company, is partners with Startup Sauna and co-operates a great deal with smaller companies both in product development and corporate culture. One-third of Finnish companies are Ilmarinen’s customers. Furthermore, Ilmarinen has almost EUR 40 billion in investment assets.