Ken Durand is director of Comcast SportsTech, an Atlanta-based accelerator program for sports-related startups that is sponsored by Comcast NBCUniversal and operated by Boomtown Accelerators. Among the areas in which it invests are venue innovation, player performance, esports, and new media models.
We interviewed Durand as part of our recent research project, “The Changing Landscape of Corporate-Startup Engagement.” Before joining Boomtown Accelerators to run the Comcast accelerator program, Durand worked in emerging technology and product development roles at Dover Corp. and Ericsson.
Startups Need Internal Champions to Help Them Navigate the BigCo Landscape
From the corporate side, a lot of times, a [startup engagement] program gets started, but the people who have to do the physical work of integrating the startup’s technology view the startup as just any other vendor, and they don’t understand that it’s a three-person company. They can’t spend the next six months going through your legal contracts. They can’t have five meetings a week to make a decision, or they’re going to go out of business. Somebody inside the company needs to have the accountability to help the startup maneuver while they’re trying to get something off the ground.
That’s one of the benefits of doing the accelerator-style effort: you create a place where things get funneled in, as opposed to taking a whole bunch of meetings [with a whole bunch of startups.] The landscape of big companies, like a Comcast, can be really complicated. Having somebody who is the sherpa, the shepherd, the person who actually knows where to go and what to do, is important. You know, the person who can say, “There are six departments that you could talk to, but the decision will be made by this group.”
I don’t advise startups to give up after one meeting [with a corporate]; it may take a few meetings to discover a problem that [a corporate is] really interested in paying to solve. But there’s a moment where you can tell if you’re getting polite meetings, as opposed to people invested, or caring about what you’re doing.
“When you start a [startup engagement program], you’re going to have misses, and you have to be comfortable with that. The startup founder may have said all the right things in the interview, but entrepreneurs think about where they’re going, not where they are.”
Early Commercial Deals Can be Tough for Startups
What startups struggle with the most is putting a commercial deal to paper – putting something in front of this potential customer that entices them to move forward in some sort of paid way, and that is acceptable to the legal and risk people on the enterprise side. My advice is often, don’t try to get an enterprise-wide deal the first time out. Figure out how to get paid a little to do something that will help you get the next deal.
Selling the Vision
When you start a [startup engagement program], you’re going to have misses, and you have to be comfortable with that. The startup founder may have said all the right things in the interview, but entrepreneurs think about where they’re going, not where they are. They say, ‘Yes, we can do that,’ but it’s a future thing. They talk in terms of their vision, which is what you teach an entrepreneur to do.
Understanding the Recipe
One of our leads from Comcast said it this way: “A lot of times, we know the cake we want to bake, but we don’t have all the ingredients.” Breaking down the ingredients and understanding which ones you don’t have — that’s often what a startup can help with. Startups don’t come with a full cake; they come with an ingredient. But if you haven’t broken down your needs and you don’t understand the recipe, you don’t know what ingredients you need.