How to approach sales to and partnership with large companies

“Large companies are large – and complex!” Niels Valdemar Bagger, Senior Department Manager from Novozymes exclaimed during a panel session at the event “Innovation in Biosolutions” at DTU on April 13th.

He explained that one must remember that divisions and functions within a company have different priorities, which make large companies complex entities to work with, for externals as well as for people inside the company. 

He was invited along with Mai Nygaard, B2B Executive Industry Advisor, FoodtureB2B, Cecilia Lindström, Head of Open Innovation at Arla Foods Amba, and Juan Pablo Medina, CEO & Co-founder of Kaffe Bueno to answer questions asked by entrepreneurs captured by Food & Bio Cluster Denmark in innovation projects funded by Biosolutions Zealand.

Photo: Panelists Niels Valdemar Bagger, Mai Nygaard and Cecilia Lindström discussing sales and partnerships at the “Innovation in Biosolutions” event at DTU on 13 April 2023

Even though the entrepreneurs in question are all innovative and are already collaborating with Novozymes, CP Kelco and Nordzucker among others, taking the collaboration to the next level can be frustrating and full of unanswered questions such as:

How to deal with large companies’ long-term strategies when you are an agile startup with a here-and-now sense of urgency? How can I best suggest new technology to a company full of existing technology? How can I best sell a product like AI, that is not a product off the shelf and which depends on data from the large company? What measures could make it more attractive for large, established companies to engage in early-stage collaborations with start-ups - e.g. through funding, tax benefits etc.? 

We invited experts from large companies and experienced startups to give their input on the matter, and here’s a summary of what they answered on some of the topics.

How to approach the corporate and present your solution?

It can be hard to open the door to a big corporation , but there are ways. Mai Nygaard initiated; “Create a tailored business case when you are trying to get a collaboration or a sale with a large company – and then try to find the highest level entry point in the organization”, this was confirmed by Cecilia Linström, who pointed out that “if a small company approaches a big company with the right solution to a strategic problem of the large company, of course it will be taken up at some point”.

Juan Medina added: “You have to prepare well and know how you can create value, of course, to be a serious partner to the large company. As a potential entry point to a large company, perhaps you can match up with another existing supplier that can integrate your solution as part of their solution or as a value add-on”, he further suggested. 

Niels Valdemar Bagger added a practical answer for the initial contact: “Something as old-fashioned as technology fairs work, that is where we go and bring our questions and try to find solutions!”

How to become relevant again once being turned down?

If you are turned down, it is not always clear why. Perhaps the problem your solution solves is already being solved within the corporation. Maybe you think the company staff is not ready for your solution, but maybe this has to do with your ability to explain it.

Therefore, “listen to what they say”, Mai Nygaard suggested. “Call and ask why it didn’t work out – and try to ask what is needed before a dialogue is re-established!”. The panelists all confirmed it takes time to build trust between two collaborating parties.

Cecilia Lindström supported this; “It’s like a marriage! You are dating a lot before you end up selecting. We also meet many startups before we decide on who to get involved with”.

Mai Nygaard, B2B Executive Industry Advisor, FoodtureB2B: “The golden thing to do is to find an internal sponsor that really understands you and believes in the value you can create – be it R&D, Marketing, Innovation or other, that can open the door to decision makers”.

All panelists agreed that collaboration through soft funding can be of some value to establish trust and to take off some of the risk in the testing phase. 

An overall conclusion drawn by the moderator Lars Horsholt Jensen, COO at Food & Bio Cluster was that most of the responsibility of the large-small collaboration falls back on the smaller company. Disappointing? Maybe to some extent. But if you have a solution which solves the corporation’s problem, it can work out in the end! 

More information

Food & Bio Cluster Denmark offers 1:1 programmes to startups, and one of our finest services is to help the startup prepare for a dialogue as well as open doors to the right partners, e.g. suggesting the right person from within a member organisation. This may not always be a big corporation, though. Contact our Head of Entrepreneurship & Incubation Jacob Mogensen, if you want to hear more.

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Jacob Mogensen

Head of Incubation

Flere nyheder fra Food & Bio Cluster


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