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Europe's Corporate Startup Stars 2016

Yesterday at SES in Berlin, Nesta and the Startup Europe Partnership announced Europe’s 25 Corporate Startup Stars - a list of top ‘startup-friendly’ corporates.

Each of these firms has, in our view, gone the extra mile to establish mutually-beneficial partnerships with startups - whether through generous procurement terms, partnerships, accelerators, direct investment, mentoring, intrapreneurship schemes, competitions or other dedicated internal programmes.

For 2016, Europe’s 25 Corporate Startup Stars are:

1. Cisco
2. Rabobank
3. Unilever
4. Telefónica
5. Virgin
6. Orange
7. Telecom Italia
9. KPN
10. EDP
11. KPMG
12. RBS
13. WPP
14. Eneco
15. MSD
16. Microsoft
17. Sky
18. KLM
19. Accenture
20. SAP SE
21. EDF
22. Diageo
23. BMW
24. PWC


As we have outlined in our reports, Winning Together & Scaling Together, successful corporate-startup collaboration is not easy. It requires commitment, leadership, experimentation and risk-taking. Collaborative working is itself a skill.

Nor are all corporates equal. Some firms engage for relatively superficial reasons, including the desire to be associated with cool startups. A few ‘string along’ startups with the unrealistic hope of a deal, sometimes causing significant harm. Most have honest intentions, but no clear strategy nor mechanism for engagement.

However, each of the firms on this list has, in our view, demonstrated its commitment to working with startups in a way which respects them as genuine partners and tries to overcome the cultural, structural and procedural obstacles that commonly obstruct partnerships. 

How was it compiled?

As we announced back in March, the first stage was an open call for nominations. After this, nominated companies were invited to submit additional evidence, such as details of procurement terms, supplier registration processes, payment times, the presence of dedicated contact points, specialist partnership programmes and numbers of deals. This evidence was then scored and ranked by an expert jury, including several prominent entrepreneurs, angels and VCs.

There are perhaps a few surprises on the list, both in terms of absence and inclusion.

The absence of a few expected names may be for multiple reasons: some are well-known for working with startups in one regard but, in the jury’s view, could do more to improve other aspects of their relationship with startups and SMEs; others failed to provide sufficient evidence to convince the jury.

The presence of some less obvious names, from a range of sectors, is a good sign: it illustrates that corporate-startup collaboration is about more than acquisitive tech companies.

Of course, corporates are not the only winners here: hundreds of startups have benefited from close collaborations with these corporates. They now have the prospect of going from startup to scale-up: the real litmus test of entrepreneurial success.

The ranking and corporate profiles are available at Startups.co.uk. Tweet your favourite and follow the hashtag #corporatestars!


Simona Bielli

Simona Bielli

Simona Bielli

Head of Programmes – Nesta Italia

Over the last year, Simona was working on a new exciting project that led to the foundation of Nesta Italia.

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Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Jonathan Bone

Mission Manager, healthy life mission

Jonathan works within Nesta Cymru (Wales), focusing on working across public, private and non-profit sectors to deliver innovative solutions that tackle obesity and loneliness in Wales.

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Siddharth Bannerjee

Siddharth Bannerjee

Siddharth Bannerjee

Researcher, Digital Startups

Sidd was the policy researcher on two projects dedicated to fostering digital entrepreneurship and building entrepreneurial ecosystems across Europe – Startup Europe Partnership (SEP) …

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Christopher Haley

Christopher Haley

Christopher Haley

Head of New Technology & Startup Research

Chris led Nesta's research interests into how startups and new technologies can drive economic growth, and what this means for businesses, intermediaries and for the government.

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Valerie Mocker

Valerie Mocker

Valerie Mocker

Director, Development & European Digital Policy

Valerie and her team focused on helping policy makers, corporates, entrepreneurs and society make the most of the digital transformation.

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Yann Finger

Yann is a Research Assistant in the policy and research team. His focus is on investigating policies supporting digital entrepreneurship across Europe, as part of the Startup Europe Pa…