Robert Maier from Eisbach Partners Team

Robert Maier | Associate Partner

Corporate venturing: Unleashing innovation for sustainable success

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Today’s business landscape demands more than ever the willingness to think outside the box and leave the comfort zone. Why? The answer is simple: To secure the company’s own future viability and competitive position. In this context, corporate venturing is a key approach for companies striving for sustainable innovation.

🚀 Diverse options for corporate venturing

Corporate venturing strategies encompass more than just investment models: They also include various methods such as hackathons, incubators, strategic alliances, venture clients, or accelerator programs. Opting for corporate venturing can notably boost a company’s capacity for innovation, allowing them to select from an array of initiatives. The initial inquiry for anyone considering the use of innovation tools should be: What objective am I aiming to accomplish? For example, aiming for a cultural shift towards innovation highlights different factors than venturing into new markets.

Goals of venture building vehicles

Another important differentiation is the flow of innovation. Do we apply an Outside-In approach and want to learn from the outside world instead of leveraging what is already existing within a company?

Type of corporate innovation matrix

Through this multifaceted lens, corporate innovation transcends traditional boundaries, potentially requiring a sophisticated portfolio of initiatives for companies to thrive in an ever-evolving business ecosystem.

🤔 Which option is the right one?

But which model is the right one for each company? This must always be analyzed and evaluated individually. The strategy for Corporate Venturing needs to match the company’s plan to bring about the innovations you want. For example, if you want to explore new markets as a strategic goal, you might need more control over an external start-up, possibly through methods like direct investment. On the flip side, if you aim to revitalize your company culture, setting up a corporate incubator can promote your company being more innovative and entrepreneurial.


Events & Hackathons:

These are collaborative and competitive events that stimulate rapid innovation and idea generation. The advantage is that they can lead to breakthrough ideas and foster a strong community spirit, often unearthing novel solutions that might not emerge through conventional channels. The events and hackathons can be organized in small teams or in large groups. Also the events can last from a few hours to one day or one week. This always depends on the strategic goals. The events can be held fully internal or with external parties. One example is the THINK.MAKE.START. Product Sprint from BMW, where employees are invited for one week to develop and validate new ideas as part of a large event.

Key goals: Cultural transformation, access to innovations


Incubators are typically programs that serve to curate and develop new ideas. On the other hand, an accelerator typically aims to expedite the growth of an already existing business model. Incubators therefore are often referred to as a “breeding ground” to develop new ideas in a protected environment. One example of this is DB Mindbox, where 4,100 startups from more than 50 countries have applied for the startup program. It’s been operational since 2015, focusing on fostering young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas for the railway industry. Participants in the program are provided with mentoring, coaching, workspace, and start-up funding. DB Mindbox aims to collaborate with startups on product and innovation development relevant to train travel, with many startups continuing their partnership with DB even after the program concludes. An example for an in-house incubator is Google’s area 120, where Google employees can pitch new ideas and develop them into working prototypes or even new Google products. It allows employees to spend part of their time on these innovative projects.

Key goals: Cultural transformation, access to innovations

Strategic Partnerships:

In a nutshell, alliances between companies that pursue common goals and in which a win-win relationship is achieved through cooperation. They can take many different forms, including joint work on new technologies, the transfer of knowledge or mutual access to new markets. A well-known example of a strategic partnership is the collaboration between Spotify and Uber. This partnership allows Uber passengers to control their Spotify playlists while driving via the Uber vehicle system.

Key goals: Entering new markets, Cultural transformation, access to innovations

Venture Clients:

In this model, a company procures innovation by becoming a customer of a startup. The startup receives a reliable first customer and valuable feedback, while the company benefits from innovative solutions tailored to its needs. One notable startup that has secured a venture customer as its first major customer is Nauto. Nauto is an AI technology company focused on the automotive sector, in particular the development of data platforms for self-driving vehicles. As a venture customer, General Motors enabled Nauto to deploy its innovative AI and vehicle network technology in real-world applications, providing the company with invaluable data, feedback and the credibility it needs to further scale its operations and technology development.

Key goals: Access to innovations

Accelerator Programs:

Accelerator programs aim to fast-track the growth of an existing business model. It is often a short-term program that pushes companies to achieve rapid growth by providing intensive mentorship and often capital investment. If set-up by a corporate, they enable the established company to identify trends at an early stage and adapt by integrating innovative solutions into their existing business processes or tapping into new business areas. One example of this is the Seven Accelerator (formerly known as ProSiebenSat.1 Accelerator), which supports external up-coming companies by providing seed capital, mentoring and office space, as well as promoting their development with its extensive network. Since its foundation in 2013, the accelerator has supported 26 start-ups.

Key goals: Cultural transformation, access to innovations

Partnerships with Investment (CVC):

Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) involves a corporation making financial investments in external startups or companies. The investments can be either made directly, but also indirectly by investing as a limited partner (LP) in an external venture capital fund. Within this vehicle type, different questions emerge and should be clarified first. If an investment is done: Is it strategic? Does the corporate want to have a say? Should it be a minority investment? How is value extracted from the investment? What are the exit strategies? What is the risk appetite? One player being active in this segment is Axel Springer Digital Ventures.

Key goals: Entering new markets

🌱 Corporate venturing: Individual solutions for individual companies

The path to the right solution requires an understanding of the unique needs and challenges of the company. Corporate venturing can help open up new perspectives, be it through access to fresh ideas, new markets or innovative technologies.

Stepping out of your comfort zone takes courage, but the potential benefits are enormous. It offers companies the opportunity not only to maintain the status quo, but also to foster the innovation and adaptability that are crucial for long-term success.

We at Eisbach Partners will help you identify the right corporate venturing option and/or support you in the identification, validation and realization of concrete ideas.

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