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Startups and corporations – two incompatible worlds?

Together with UnternehmerTUM, the VDMA publishes a study on “Strong together. How to successfully collaborate with startups in mechanical and plant engineering”. The goal is to show ways to jointly innovate, but also stumbling blocks in the process. As experienced cooperation partners, we have taken a closer look at the study and the accompanying guide – and show which points are most important from our point of view.


A long-established company and a freshly founded startup. Two businesses could hardly be more different. Where once there was a deep chasm between decades of refined production methods and high-tech new developments, today more and more bridges are being built through startup collaborations.

And that is also necessary: In a world increasingly characterized by international competition and innovation, new approaches and cooperations are needed to hold one’s own in the ever-changing market. VUCA is the buzzword of the hour. It stands for a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous corporate world.


Collaborations are common among startups and enterprises

Even if it seems as if startups are made for these circumstances due to their speed and dynamics, they are also happy to have reliable partners. With them, challenges can be tackled together. As the VDMA study shows, 91% of startups have already taken advantage of this opportunity. 

And the established companies? They also increasingly understand that they have to bow to an increasingly fast pace of innovation and are consequently more open to new models. According to the VDMA, 58% have already carried out startup collaborations. The average here is 2 to 4 projects and a sustainable success rate of over 60 %. However, the study also shows that those who are particularly open to joint developments benefit all the more. Companies surveyed with more than 5 collaborations rated their satisfaction at a full 100%.


Different goals and success factors – can they be reconciled?

Not surprisingly, the strategic goals of companies and startups in collaborations are very different. While companies focus primarily on product development (84%), startups are concerned with acquiring customers. 93% want to win their cooperation partners as customers, 2 out of 3 want to implement pilot projects and 63% are looking for reference customers.

Fortunately, these different goals can be seen as two sides of the same coin. And so the study also comes to the conclusion: Those projects are particularly successful that see cooperation as a win-win situation.

The picture is similar for the success factors. Companies attach particular importance to:

  1. Clear collaboration goals and strategy (50%)
  2. Support from top management (42%)
  3. Involvement of the relevant specialist departments and realistic objectives (38% each).


The young partners, on the other hand, necessarily place their focus more on their side and would like to see an overall reduction in uncertainty in collaboration with: 

  1. Low-bureaucracy processes (43%),
  2. Binding budget commitments (39 %),
  3. Clear contacts (38 %).


The study clearly shows that the other side is quite understanding of each other’s concerns. With the exception of a fixed budget, the partner side also supports all the points mentioned.


Unsurprisingly, factors for greater satisfaction

Successful collaboration in the VUCA world is no longer just about results. While this is naturally also of great importance, findings to the contrary also help companies. The companies cite this above all in the qualitative interviews in the study.

To ensure that a startup collaboration leads to satisfaction on both sides, regardless of the actual result, the VDMA has identified the following factors:

Directly from practice: Our experience with collaborations.

We at HD Vision Systems have also collaborated with large and medium-sized companies for pilot projects on several occasions. We can only agree with the overall tenor of the survey by VDMA and UnternehmerTUM: For us, cooperations always result in exciting projects with which we can further develop our product. The focus on maximum and rapid applicability for our partner companies is particularly important to us.



In our view, the guide for startup cooperations attached to the study provides important impetus for both sides. After all, as a young company, we are constantly on the lookout for new partners and development opportunities. This allows us to develop our products and applications close to actual industrial needs and improve them already in this process thanks to direct feedback.

At the same time, our partner companies receive the solutions they need quickly and flexibly. Thus, we always experience our collaboration partners as very interested in new developments, technologies and opportunities.

Similar to what the VDMA writes in its guide, we have met exciting companies primarily in networks and accelerators. But personal contacts also play a role in the initiation process. And should a contact get in touch with us directly, we certainly wouldn’t turn them away 😉.



Practice makes perfect. In our opinion, this adage also applies to startup collaborations. Therefore, we can absolutely understand that companies with more than 5 collaborations are fully satisfied with the principle. After all, it is only after a few projects that necessary structures and a suitable mode of collaboration are found on both sides. After all, work processes and daily work routine sometimes differ considerably from startup to company. Without a common basis, difficulties in understanding, delays and co are almost predictable.



For this very reason, ambiguities on both the technical and process sides should be clearly communicated from the outset. It should also be taken into account that imponderables can impair the joint project and, in exceptional cases, even cause it to fail.



It is important: Cooperation can only succeed if this organized approach is accompanied by a concrete goal. That’s why we typically start our collaboration with a proof of concept (PoC) with defined specifications. The goal can be quite ambitious, but should never lie outside the startup’s core competencies.

Incidentally, collaboration is even more successful when there are fixed contact persons or project managers on both sides. They absolutely need to be able to make decisions and must be fully behind the collaboration.



Of course, we know that large companies in particular bear a high responsibility for employees and flawless products. Nevertheless, we depend on clear, binding feedback as well as quick responses. The key here is to break down cultural barriers on both sides and find understanding for the other side. Our collaborations work best when both sides meet in the middle.

There’s just one point where the startup motto applies unreservedly to us: fail fast, learn fast. A willingness to fail is a prerequisite, especially when innovation is at a high level! Anyone who explores and implements new ways can and will find difficulties. They cannot always be solved in an ideal way. For us, this awareness is an essential part of startup cooperation. Of course, this does not mean that we – or any other young company – will not give less than 100% to the joint project at any time, but sometimes a conclusion helps more than any further attempt.



On that note, don’t set unrealistic goals for a startup collaboration. Usually, these only have a limited time frame. However, no one has ever reinvented the wheel in six months. It is better to focus on sub-areas and individual steps first. In this way, you lay the foundation for your bridge into the startup world.


Our conclusion

Cooperations are an all-around enriching experience for both established companies and startups. This is even more true the more experience you gain. This is another reason why we are always open to joint projects and are happy about every single request.


At the same time, you should always be aware that even startups can’t make the impossible possible. Especially not in half a year. In addition, these young innovators need a reliable foundation to build on. If all this is in place, there is nothing standing in the way of a successful cooperation and possibly even a partnership that will last for years.


You can find the entire VDMA and UnternehmerTUM guide to startup collaborations here:

And if you now think that you and we might be good partners, feel free to contact us directly:

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