Maybe even without knowing it, 500 Startups may already have change how ordinary people live
Anybody who has experience with business knows the struggle of having to go it out alone for the first time. Taking an idea to market generally entails a big learning curve in terms of a new entrepreneur’s skills and maturity. Startups need friends to survive in the great big world. In today’s world of the internet and globalisation, multinational companies and startups share the stage, with the next big thing always right around the corner. While competition and the law of the jungle will always persist, these two could also learn from one another.
In an age that demands ever greater innovation startups and established companies can find common ground. But thankfully there are individuals and organisations willing to take up the challenge of being matchmakers for startups and multinationals. Arnaud Bonzom is one of these exemplary individuals. As Director of Corporate Innovation at 500 Startups, he is tasked with helping multinationals leverage the innovation and energy of startups in exchange for the expertise and resources that these large companies can provide. Bonzom is also teamed up with INSEAD as one of the authors of How do the World’s Biggest Companies Deal with the Startup Revolution?, a guide for corporations looking to deal with startups.
500 Startups is a California-based early stage venture capital firm started by legendary angel investor David McClure and Christine Tsai seven years ago in 2010. From an initial “class” of 12 startups it now works with astronomical numbers over 1,600 companies in 60 countries and with over 3,000 founders. Maybe even without knowing it, 500 Startups may already have change how ordinary people live. The startups run the gamut of Philippine-based real-estate site ZipMatch, to infographics giant visual.ly, to ride-sharing app Grab.
Beyond financial grants
While it would be easy to characterise 500 Startups as glorified grant-giving, Bonzom says the work 500 Startups does goes well beyond that. It means “Introducing them to the right person in the bank, which guy is going to make the decision and being able to understand what is the problem that startup is solving.”
Thus the work of accelerating startups for Bonzom means facilitating connections between big corporations and startups and being an evangelist for both “Helping them (corporations) understand what they can do with startups.” The knowledge experience that comes with succeeding as a multinational company can also benefit startups, Bonzom describes part of what he does as “Having them (companies) share with us the challenges they are facing now, then five, ten years.” It also means matching the companies “Are they willing to take risks, are they willing to invest a lot of money into that or not.”
Most of what 500 Startup does, according to Bonzom, comes from what the portfolio startups need. “We spend most of our time with our portfolio companies reaching out to corporate, helping them identify who will be the right corporate to talk to.” Bonzom takes particular pride in how 500 Startups takes care of its startups through this system, which he describes as a “corporate Make-A-Wish”. Through its expansive network, it has helped companies receive support and resources that they would otherwise not have, Bonzom takes particular pride in 500 Startups’ attention “In Southeast Asia … we have one person in charge of supporting our companies, so she’s calling all of our 120 portfolio companies every month… what do you need?”
Diverse knowledge is key
Bonzom’s line of work in terms of matching large corporate entities and startups encompasses much more than a single line of business. Bonzom intimates that “The challenge of my job is one day I get a question from the automotive industry, the next day I get a question from the oil and gas industry … so the thing is that a guy sends you a question, you dig a little based on the data we have, we follow a lot of trends … look at this company and see what may be the challenge for them.”
The complexity and diversity of the kind of matchmaking 500 Startups does leaves very little room for Bonzom, he believes he has to be a jack of all trades, in his own words: “It’s interesting because I had some time coming in from different industries… you have to know the fact that we spin-off this company, you cannot come in and say I don’t know anything about this industry.”
Not a stranger to the struggles
Risking it all for the first time in an environment that’s more or less new to you is a struggle that startups are not unfamiliar with. Perhaps Bonzom’s uncanny sense for startups comes from how he started working with startups.
Bonzom came to Singapore as a fresh graduate with very little experience in the region. “You just come, you’re nobody, you just graduated, you have nothing to lose. Worst case scenario, you spend too much money for six months, you go back, you tried it you learned something, you don’t have any regrets.” Food for thought to any entrepreneur.
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