When Samsung NEXT approached Emily Becher in 2013 to open its New York City presence and create an entrepreneur-in-residence program, she was hesitant to accept the position. She knew Samsung as a multinational electronics behemoth — would they welcome the new and untried ideas that startup founders are known for? But after meeting with executives, Becher felt assured that they were more than willing to make the risky investments necessary to nurture startups. “Samsung NEXT was willing to commit and willing to understand that different outcomes need different processes,” Becher says.
Becher and Samsung NEXT were tackling a persistent problem in the world of entrepreneurship and venture capital: How might traditional companies work with lighter, nimbler startups to bring new ideas to the world? It’s not always easy, but from Samsung’s perspective, positioning the company to nurture startups is smart. It means the company can more easily be involved with new technologies and concepts, whether that means a partnership, acquisition or just access to an entrepreneurial point of view. But how could they make sure startups got enough out of the deal to make it worthwhile for them to work with Samsung NEXT?
Here are six tips Becher says she’s learned on the job.
Start with teams who have ideas, plans and goals
Early on, Becher tried to identify promising technologists and bring them in before they had a startup-ready idea. It didn’t go so well. “We tried a lot of things in the early days and some of them worked and some of them didn’t,” she says. As it turned out, the “random walk of a single technologist” didn’t always lead to actionable ideas. “It is very difficult to build a scalable company off a single individual,” says Becher. Now she makes sure that a startup already has a specific idea or goal and a team in place before they partner with Samsung NEXT.
Let startups keep the tools that work for them
If an entrepreneurial team is used to working in Slack, Google Docs, Trello or some other productivity application, imposing the corporation’s norms can break their rhythm and quash creativity, says Becher. She wanted to make sure that coming to Samsung NEXT didn’t mean a huge change in routine, even if some favored apps weren’t approved for use by Samsung employees. “We very quickly put rules in place giving exception to give them the right tools,” Becher says. “These are all the things we did in the background to make sure it seemed seamless.”
Leverage local ecosystems
“We’re a global organization,” Becher says. “We’re not sitting in the U.S., looking at best-of-breed technology and flying into Israel or Paris or Toronto. We have people on the ground there that are locals.” Instead of parachuting into a country and looking for talent, having offices staffed by people who understand the local landscape makes it easier to know who’s got the hottest ideas — and how to court them. “We have individuals in all those local markets building relationships with all those entrepreneurs,” says Becher.
Cut red tape
It can be slow to get money from venture funds overseas, so Samsung NEXT set up an American venture fund so they could close deals faster. “In the beginning, there was a lot of dialog about putting new processes in place that allowed us to be nimble, fast-moving and responsive to what was required to work with entrepreneurs,” Becher says. This way, Samsung NEXT was able to compress what would have been a nine-to-12 month process down to a few weeks. “When a company wants to close its funding round, not having to wait two or three weeks for us is incredibly important,” she says.
Hire entrepreneurs to work with other entrepreneurs
The Samsung NEXT offices are staffed by former entrepreneurs who understand the pressures startups are under — and who can create an office culture that “feels authentic” to incoming teams. “Culture is where we spend a lot of time and energy,” Becher says. “If you don’t create a culture, a culture is created for you.” It’s important that entrepreneurs arriving at the Samsung NEXT officers don’t get the feeling that this was “an organization playing a game.”
Keep it open-ended
Becher says it’s important that Samsung NEXT is able to work with startups in a variety of different modes, and without a fixed timeframe. “What we have learned is that we work with entrepreneurs in a way that makes sense to them,” she says. “We meet the entrepreneurs where they are.” An entrepreneur might interact with Samsung NEXT as an entrepreneur in residence, using their offices and resources; or they might come to Samsung NEXT for venture capital funds; or they might end up being acquired by the corporation, working with them as a partner; or just “end up coming to build something with us,” Becher says. “Our model is open.”