11 November 2020

Startup Academy lessons organised by UniCredit Start Lab continue with a focus on understanding customers’ needs to obtain effective business partnerships

2:00 Min

Customers’ needs and their in depth understanding, are a key element for activating a process to help a startup succeed in product or service selling. Customers can often be the final clients but even more often, in the context of startups operating in the B2B world, they are other companies.

With Bernardo Bertoldi, university professor and co-founder of 3H Partners, we explored what to do and how, from the first meeting to the conclusion of the negotiation in the B2B context. When a large company buys a product or service, it buys a relationship with a provider/supplier company. The sales process is often complex, especially when the startup – normally used to lean processes – finds itself proposing solutions to a large company – used to very articulated processes. In such cases, the first real obstacle is finding the right interlocutor, i.e. the person who can really be interested in the proposed solution. The most successful startups are those that engage with less than 10-15 clients in order to reach cash break-even. Choosing targets carefully is therefore essential, organising just a few, well-structured, meetings. The first meeting is the one that counts the most and for which it is important to prepare very well.

"We normally warn entrepreneurs that creating a better mouse trap is not enough to have the world knock on their door. It’s right, but very rarely are they taught what the processes to sell effectively are. And selling what they have developed is the only thing that matters: cash is king but the client is the king of cash"

Bernardo Bertoldi, university professor and co-founder of 3H Partners

With Antonio Fontanini, Chief Exponential Officer of Opinno, we analysed a facilitator of Open Innovation’s point of view, in order to generate business between business partners, trying to answer the question: “Who is it better to do business with?”. According to Fontanini, we are hunting for “elephants”, large corporates that adopt “company venturing” strategies, with a very broad vision, and that have already adopted processes capable of fostering open innovation. There are many ways of doing corporate venturing – there are at least 11 of them. The main ones are: scouting activities, organising hackathons, structuring incubation projects. A startup can be particularly useful to a large corporate. The current trends show how effective experiences can be recorded both in the field of sustainable innovation and in that of strategic innovation.

"Startups can make corporate elephants dance, reduce their 'time to market', cutting costs and making their structure (and culture) more agile."

Antonio Fontanini, Chief Exponential Officer of Opinno

The day continued with a series of interesting testimonies from companies that make open innovation an ultimate ingredient of their operations.

With Maurizio Colombo, Vice President of the Sapio Group’s Hydrogen Oxygen Production, an institute that has an innovation board and an innovation team, we discovered the internal initiatives launched by the company in this field, such as the hackathon “Sapiothon”, and the successful collaborations nurtured in the world of innovation – among which it is worth mentioning Gellify and iGenius. These initiatives have in common a precise approach to innovation for Sapio, made of a clear vision, realistic expectations, constant proof of concept and validation of the idea on the market. The clear objectives must be accompanied by simplicity, speed of execution and the ability to establish a collaborative dialogue between startup and corporates. The vision must be aligned with an efficient execution of the project.

"I am convinced, today more than in the past, that it is useful for startups to stay with their feet firmly on the ground, without stopping to dream."

Maurizio Colombo, Vice President of the Sapio Group's Hydrogen Oxygen Production

Laura Rocchitelli, President & CEO of Rold and Paolo Barbatelli, Chief Sales & Innovation Officer of the group, enriched the day with their company’s experience, which since the 60s has maintained a manufacturing DNA, operating in the field of technological solutions and components for household appliances, and since then has always been innovative – which in essence originally meant investing in the automation of production processes.

One of the most decisive forms of innovation at Rold has been to introduce new skills by combining mechatronics with digital skills. It was a bold choice for a manufacturing SME. In Barbatelli’s testimony, in particular, we focused on the aspect that small size, when starting to work with a large company, doesn’t matter. However, it is necessary to be concrete and complete.

Laura Rocchitelli, President & CEO of Rold, said: “The open approach to innovation is rewarding. At Rold we now have an innovation laboratory that combines corporate R&D and university research: we have adapted this way of collaborating by taking inspiration from our large clients.”

Paolo Barbatelli, Chief Sales & Innovation Officer of Rold, said: “The goal of the startups that today come in contact with large corporations is not to enter their supply chains, but to become a business partner.

A supportive ecosystem

A further testimony was brought by Luca Avitabile, Head of Start-up Portfolio Management and Venture Capital Ecosystem of Enel, a company committed to important objectives worldwide for several years: decarbonisation, electrification, digitisation and satisfaction of new customer needs, with the mission of improving the way energy is used.

Enel has started more than 300 collaborations with startups in the last four years and is now a Venture Client. Startups that develop solutions that work become long-term suppliers for the company. The contact between the startups and Enel occurs mainly through the Innovation Hubs, present both in the USA and Israel, countries that have developed ecosystems particularly alive in the world of innovation, and in geographical areas where Enel has a stable presence (Europe, South America and Russia). In addition, through the portal OpenInnovability.com Enel collects proposals from innovators both spontaneously and through specific challenges, aimed at solving problems related to business and the impact this has on the ecosystem.

"Sustainability is the goal, and innovation is the tool to achieve it: that's why we coined the term Innovability. Our 'Open Power' strategy testifies the openness we have towards the innovative ecosystem"

Luca Avitabile, Head of Start-up Portfolio Management and Venture Capital Ecosystem of Enel

With Anna Testa, Innovation and Digital Transformation Sales Specialist at Cisco, the Academy participants have deepened the innovation strategy adopted both at global and Italian level.

"At Cisco we have the ambition to bring Innovation to Italian companies, our customers and partners through the paradigm of Open Innovation. For this reason we have created a model of distributed innovation, Innovation Exchange, which sees the value of innovation and collaboration with the territory as its strength."

Anna Testa, Innovation and Digital Transformation Sales Specialist at Cisco

The day ended with the testimony of Rosana Ardila, Open Innovation Manager of Mozilla, a non-profit company that bases its mission on the concept of openness. Mozilla, like Linux, is an open source computer system that creates value for the innovation ecosystem. The key word for realities like Mozilla is “collaboration”. Without it, a non-profit company would not be able to grow and develop. A virtuous collaboration is based on valuable relationships, on effective communication and in line with the cultural specificities of each element of the network.