Our recent Digital Masters Board Dinner at the Rosewood Hotel, London, brought together 300 investors, CEOs and NEDs from listed businesses, private equity-backed and venture capital-backed businesses, who are all leveraging technology to drive growth and transformation.

At the event, we caught up with several attendees to hear how companies at different points along the growth curve can share experiences for mutual benefit.

Large corporates are increasingly looking to replicate the innovation of scale-up digital businesses in order to stay relevant. These businesses move quickly, take risks, and are highly-focused.

Collaborating with entrepreneurs and startups can help larger companies to think outside the box. Antonio Capo, Operating Partner at TPG Capital explains: “Entrepreneurs are good at change, at creating. Corporations are often a little stifled in their creativity.”

James Bilefield, NED of Stagecoach, highlighted that it is not just ‘traditional’ corporates that take this approach: even Google, one of the world’s most innovative companies, purchases c. 20 companies each year to help it stay ahead of the game. Innovation is hard simply hard as a big company. Partnerships, collaborations, and M&A can expedite this process.

Corporates can learn how to innovative, how to be creative, and more importantly how to be agile and nimble, because frankly in today’s world, none of us are moving fast enough.

Tanya Cordrey, NED, Schibsted Media

This combination of corporate scale and startup thinking can be a heady mix for innovation. Majestic Wine’s takeover of Naked Wines in 2015 is a good case in point. “Majestic bought Naked Wines, a very innovative, entrepreneurial disrupter in the wine industry” says Greg Hodder, NED of Majestic.

“They put the Naked Wines CEO and founder (Rowan Gormley) in charge of the group and the results have been very strong. You are able to see how a business is able to get its mojo back.”  Since the acquisition, Majestic has rolled out next- or named-day delivery, a ‘no quibbles’ returns policy, and has renewed focus on in-store customer service.

When you put together the pureplay businesses with the traditional companies, great things can happen.

James Bilefield, NED, Stagecoach

While the benefits of collaboration are obvious, finding partners with the right cultural fit is not always plain sailing. Networking events certainly play a very useful role here as they allow companies to meet and talk in an informal setting. Hodder explains,  “Events like this are great networking opportunities. You can talk to people in an open way and see how digital and small business ideas can be applied to bigger businesses.”

On the flip side, there are also vital lessons for scale-ups to take from high-growth digital businesses: embedding processes, insight into how to work in public markets, compensation structures, and how to generate long term brand value.

The challenge for scale-ups is retaining their culture and “pioneering spirit” as they mature. It is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but to embed the right processes (remuneration, onboarding, development plans, team structures etc.) without bogging the company down in bureaucracy and inertia. As venture capitalist Keith Wallington puts it, “What is important is for them to adopt just enough structure and just enough process mentality” to succeed.

Many thanks to our Digital Masters Partners: Silicon Valley Bank, Cooley, EY and Innogy Innovation Hub.