Collaborate with start-ups or risk being disrupted, Slingshot CEO warns corporates


Industries are at danger of disruption when the status quo is not just complexity, regulation, a lack of transparency and waste but also an absence of collaboration, according to Karen Lawson, CEO of corporate accelerator Slingshot. She spoke to Dynamic Business about how collaborating with start-ups will help a corporate to survive ‘the wave of disruption’.

Lawson explained that Slingshot has accelerators in a range of emerging industries, including member-tech, food-tech, travel-tech, fin-tech, health-tech, HR-tech. In addition, she said start-ups that have participated in Slingshot are ‘unlocking growth’ in e-sports (Gamurs), collaborative consumption (Camplify), food & retail distribution (Drive Yello), IoT in aged care (Curo), entertainment & audience reach (Audience Republic) and other spaces.

Asked what criteria an industry must satisfy to warrant an accelerator program, Lawson indicated that it all depends on the supply of start-ups and demand from corporates.

“Our approach has been to find a consortium of partners who want to find startups and scale-ups around key ‘themes’, for example HR tech,” she explained.

“In that case, we saw the need to disrupt what has been a very traditional business that hasn’t changed significantly in decades. It’s still very much CVs and job boards.

“These themes are critical as they ensure there is alignment with corporate strategy, which increases the chances that the solutions or products being collaborated on are going to have a meaningful impact. There does need to be density of supply (startups and scale-ups) in these verticals as the very nature of having themes narrows the selection criteria.”

Collaboration as a cultural exchange

Lawson said the benefits corporates derive from participating in an accelerator program are enormous, not just in terms of finding new products or services, but also culture.

“Mark Steyn, CEO of Hudson Asia Pacific, really understands this,” she said. “He ran a program to find an entrepreneur with a great idea within Hudson and gave that person the opportunity to participate in our HR tech accelerator, with leave of absence from their day job. That’s a great example of how a company is harnessing the excitement of nurturing business ideas internally.

“Accelerators are also an opportunity for corporates to develop their executive team. When executives connect with and working alongside entrepreneurs (contrary to popular belief, they’re not all aged in their twenties – many of them are what I’d call ‘corporate refugees’ and they’re highly experienced), this can lead to a fantastic exchange of ideas. Importantly, the entrepreneurs’ passion and their unique ways of thinking and approaching challenges are infectious.”

“No industry is safe from disruption”

Corporates aren’t the only ones who benefit from harnessing entrepreneurialism; the federal and state governments also have much to gain, Lawson explained: “They’re struggling with not being able to innovate quickly enough for their constituents and are waking up to the fact that they need to use accelerators to get products and services up and running in months, not years.

She noted that Slingshot is currently working with the NSW Government on an accelerator program with participation from entrepreneurs who have ideas as to how the public transport system could be improved for people living with disability: “where governments have failed, start-ups and scale-ups can succeed”.

At the end of the day, Lawson said, collaboration is a must for all organisations because ‘no industry is safe from disruption’ by start-ups.

“Where there is complexity, regulation, lack of transparency, waste – these are havens for disruption,” she explained. “Meanwhile, some industries attract a higher volume of start-ups simply because the financial rewards and market size is larger, such as finance and health. In the case of finance, it’s being disrupted by FinTech due to the fact that it’s a highly-regulated industry with a lack transparency through the value chain; however, banks and financial institutions are actually being quite astute in that they’re supporting and collaborating with start-ups. In industries where organisations are not collaborating, that’s where there’s perhaps an even greater danger of disruption. If an organisation hasn’t stepped up to the market and begun looking beyond its walls for innovative solutions, chances are it’ll be disrupted.”