BigCo Collaboration: Cintrifuse

For local economies to drive growth and productivity, key decision-makers must invest in entrepreneurial companies. BigCos need to align with, learn from, and use startup talent, products, and services in order to build and strengthen the innovation economy.

The way ecosystem builders set the stage for BigCo-startup collaborations is paramount. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as putting startups in a room with BigCo leaders. Meetings between BigCos and startups often fall short when it comes to the kind of candid business discussions required for mutually beneficial outcomes.

As CEO at Cintrifuse, a public-private partnership in southwest Ohio and northern Kentucky, I led the effort to build high-value engagement between BigCos and startups with an approach that enabled BigCos to share business challenges, engage with emerging startup technologies, and support the scaling up of promising startup products and services.

Meet-ups Catalyze Engagement

When we started our mission to catalyze startup innovation in Cincinnati, I already knew how impactful creating conversations between large companies and startups could be–but with 150 BigCos in the area there were too many companies for one-on-one conversations. We needed a different approach.

First, we took stock of the region’s technology landscape, paying particular attention to where large companies (with $100 million in revenue and higher) fell on the digital transformation continuum. We then identified innovation opportunities that could positively impact companies’ organic growth or efficiency. 

Our next step was to forge connections. We decided to host informal, digital transformation “meet-ups.” We invited digital thought leaders and investors (entrepreneurs, academics, and government leaders) from outside the region or from other parts of the region to share their expertise on tech themes with regional BigCos. 

The informal gatherings were a huge success. Company leaders learned how technology innovation could solve business challenges and they began to see startups as problem-solvers and potential collaborators.

Collaboration Grows the Innovation Ecosystem

Key BigCo-startup relationships formed because my team and I created the right conditions. We sparked high-value, low-stakes organic collisions that fostered trust between BigCos and startups, paired stakeholders with the strongest mutual impact potential, and made the value potential real and tangible. 

Our approach strengthened the region’s innovation ecosystem. Today, Cintrifuse has been nationally recognized for its role in developing over 500 startups, connecting more than 16 ecosystem partners, and engaging more than 30 large corporations.

This is the true work of an ecosystem builder: We deliver every program, activity, and introduction intentionally and with a maximalist mindset so that collaborations can form and build momentum across the entire ecosystem.