Startups in developing economies are addressing local problems through creative technologies and solutions. For large global companies, the prospect of working with such startups is appealing — and complicated.
For large global companies, forging effective partnerships with high-potential startups is easier said than done. The very traits that make such startups potentially complementary as partners also make it difficult for large companies to engage with them in the first place. Multinational corporations often struggle even to identify promising potential startup partners; startups, for their part, find it difficult to identify and reach the relevant decision makers within the often-confusing hierarchies of gigantic multinational companies.
The challenge, for both sides, is all the more vexing in emerging markets. Furthermore, most academic studies of the challenges that large companies and entrepreneurial ventures face in partnering — and the solutions the studies suggest — focus on mature markets, such as the United States and Europe.1 Far less is known about how multinational corporations should engage with startups in emerging markets such as China and India — even though those markets already boast the presence of prominent multinational companies such as Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and SAP.
To understand how multinational companies have partnered successfully with startups in emerging markets, we undertook a study in three major emerging market economies: India, China, and South Africa.2 (See “About the Research.”) Our research uncovered four key factors that multinational companies confront in such partnerships in emerging markets. We also unearthed four strategies — one corresponding to each of the factors — to help global companies engage with startups in emerging markets more effectively. (See “Key Factors in Partnerships With Startups in Emerging Markets.”) While some factors may be more potent than others for a given multinational corporation, all four of these strategies are worth paying attention to. They are mutually reinforcing, interrelated strategies and should be viewed holistically rather than in a piecemeal fashion.