How Transparent Timelines Can Improve Startup Collaborations

By Kaitlin Milliken |  August 30, 2021

According to the national nonprofit ReFED, 108 billion pounds of food in the United States gets trashed — nearly 40 percent of all food produced in the country. Mori, a startup focused on extending the shelf life of perishable products, hopes to use science to reduce that waste.

Adam Behren, CEO of Mori, a startup focused on extending the shelf life of perishable products.

The Cambridge, Mass. company has created an edible micro-layer of silk-based proteins that can help fridge staples — from chicken to steak to strawberries — stay fresher longer.

“We are looking to generate operational efficiencies in the supply chain through making a more resilient, more flexible one,” CEO Adam Behren says. “And then improving the quality [of products] in order to strengthen other people’s brands as well.” Mori’s approach is to work with large food suppliers and manufacturers.

In a conversation with InnoLead, Behren shares the factors that lead to successful partnerships with the startup. This interview is a part of our new report on corporate-startup collaboration, created in partnership with MIT’s Office of Corporate Relations.

Clearly Define the Partnership’s Value Proposition

We spend a long time on the problem definition, with an eye towards trying to define some kind of technical milestone. When pilots have gone well, there’s at least been an attempt at defining success criteria on the front end. … It allows both sides of the partnership to communicate really discretely around success and failure.

Be Transparent about Timelines

Our agreements…on the fastest scale have taken three months, and the longest has probably been like, 18 months or so. Depending on the stage of startup, companies could be living and dying by those timelines… Being transparent about timeline allows the startup to communicate effectively to their backers.

I don’t mind that [a major] contract takes a year, because I know that for the next six months, 90 percent of my staff will be working on this. … [So] there are these moments where sometimes delays are okay.

As long as it’s accurate, you can rein in expectations. We all have our own backers, and we all have to justify our milestones and funding, but if these contracts are in perpetual delay, it’s very hard for me as an operator to hold back resources… At some point, I will stop waiting, and say, “I’m gonna move on to another opportunity, because I have to show some progress here.”

Where we see bureaucracy always rear its head is when contracts are in legal. What helps facilitate it being productive is making sure that the business unit lead is seeing what is fair… So that could come down to payment or IP ownership or whatever it may be — but really, what protects both organizations and what is fair to both. If you have that internal champion on the business unit side, having them broker it through legal as an active contributor helps with the process.

We brought in internal counsel quite early in our life… I think that startups can do their own part for being more agile in a legal framework by working more closely with lawyers as well. It’s usually not a tool a lot of people like to wield early on in the startup life, but it does give you a lot of flexibility…