Insights: Building Resilient Partnerships for Change

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In June of 2020, I had the pleasure of facilitating a sharing and discussion on the above titled topic as part of our BlueChilli HealthTech Summit Series.

I felt the topic was especially apt in today’s world of heightened uncertainties where partnerships have become all the more critical for businesses and industries to be resilient against systemic risks and have the agility to scale with demand. 

It was an especially rich discussion on corporate-startup partnerships for health innovation as the three speakers are part of a partnership ecosystem that drew on very real shared experience as well as their experience with other collaborators. 

This is my learning reflection of the session summarised into 4 takeaways for partnerships. It is primarily written in the perspective of tips for startups though I hope they also yield insights for large organisations looking to partner with startups:

  1. Find your Believers
  2. Make it an Inside (and Insight) Job
  3. Start Small to Win Big
  4. Persistence, Patience and Politeness
Our talented and distinguished panelist speakers for the event

I am grateful to the following speakers for their generosity:  

  • Edward Booty, Co-Founder and CEO, Reach52
  • Indranil Roychowdhury, Co-Founder and CEO, Docquity
  • Maarten Kelder, Executive Vice President, Strategy and Corporate Development, Zuellig Pharma

1. Find your Believers

“They were first believers before they were partners as users, investors, customers and employees.” Indranil Roychowdhury, Docquity

Believers first, partners second. Partnerships start with converting people who can connect with you and your cause into believers. We had discussed examples of how individual believers had worked magic for the startups in times of need from building the companies’ user base to monetisation to pulling in investment capital at incredible speed. So how do you find your believers for corporate partnership?

Invest time to understand the organisations you are trying to approach to have some awareness of how you might be a strategic fit for them. For example, in the case of Zuellig which is building an ecosystem around patient journey, as partners Docquity and Reach52 had fit into continuum in empowering burdened healthcare providers and enabling shift of care from hospital to community, respectively. 

Craft your story to resonate with the individuals you are reaching out and help them understand your value. Spark as many conversations as you can to identify individuals that resonate strongly with your story. Invest in building relationships with these individuals and empower them to be your champions as internal allies and advocates to their external network.

2. Make it an Inside (and Insight) Job

In considering startups as potential collaborators, Maarten shared three things that he looks out for: (1) ideas he can see strategic synergy with for their core business (2) business model that address real user pain points and (3) team who are able to weather the demands of working with a complex organisation.  

There was unanimity that partnerships can only materialise with insider help and extensive work to facilitate internal alignment to get the organisation attuned to your value when working with large corporations. 

“Even if you had obtained senior management decision, internal stakeholders can create barriers in the implementation of the partnership if they are not aligned. You will need to tell your story in ways that these stakeholders you are trying to align can understand how you are helping them achieve their business goals.” Maarten Kelder, Zuellig Pharma 

It is incredibly important to tap your believers who are your allies to help you understand the decision-making process of the organisation, identify the people you need to convince and help you gain insights on what matters to each of these stakeholders (what are their KPIs and downside concerns?). Invest time to understand and address their goals to convince them to have a vested interest in your success (yes iteration on crafting your story to resonate).

3. Start Small to Win Big

Startups typically cannot provide the level of certainty that corporate executives prefer in deciding to adopt new solutions, for example evidence of performance in specific markets and use cases. Negotiating and achieving shared expectations for outcomes and timeline can also be challenging when the project is an experiment on both ends. 

To add to that, these emergent projects may not have a prior allocated budget and it is not uncommon for some stakeholders to have fears that the partnership may be accelerating their own business disruption.These drive the need to de-risk new partnerships especially with startups. 

It is hence critical to start small, create successive small wins to build trust and find the path to scale. Work on a pilot or first use case that can serve as a basecamp for scaling the partnership. While this part of the journey may seem exceptionally trying, it can yield learning and trust needed to scale fast. For example, Indranil shared that it took Docquity 6 months to get a pilot going in Indonesia with a partner but once that pilot worked, they managed to expand the project to 7 countries in the next 6 months after.

4. Persistence, Patience and Politeness

“Good things take a very long time, even more so in healthcare.” Edward Booty, Reach52

The reality of developing partnerships with large organisations (which could help you scale) is that it is a complex process of engaging a web of stakeholders and decisions take a really long time. A large organisation is not a monolithic organism; they are a multi-faceted organism made with many individuals who have differentiated interest and perception at each part of its whole. Even in the early phases of developing the partnerships if there is a specific large organisation you are targeting, you might need to start conversations with 20-30 people from different teams to get a value fit going. 

You will need a lot of persistence to find believers, help your potential partners take down their own barriers for partnership. You will need to have patience with what is more often a long-drawn process for decision making and implementation, understanding their corporate planning cycles. You need to have politeness as much as you are relentless in your pursuit. Chaser emails every week may close doors, instead focus on your mission and providing value – if there is great value fit they will come round to advance the conversation even though it will take time.  

In a Nutshell: Building Resilient Partnerships for Change

It is fundamentally about creating value for others with appreciation for their context and goals. Find human connections that resonate with your mission and develop relationships and trust over time, creating small wins together in order to build the understanding required to withstand adversities and scale fast. 

Individuals are the driving force to make organisation partnerships and more happen. Building resilient partnerships for change is a marathon of successive sprints of value alignment between individuals and organisations.  

Do comment if you have learnings from building partnerships for health innovation to share! 🙂

I’d also invite you to follow our BlueChilli HealthTech page if you’d like to be updated on all the latest happenings in healthtech!

— Hui Hong