Large companies starting mentoring schemes for tech startups seems to be becoming a thing. The latest example is an initiative from BBC Worldwide, the commercial arm of the beeb, to create a six month mentorship programme for digital startups and emerging digital media companies with the aim of helping them to gain traction and scale and ultimately to establish some kind of commercial partnership.
It's easy to see what's in it for the corporates: early and preferential access to new technology platforms, new thinking and ideas, some of that startup pixie dust. But does it make as much sense for the startups? The BBC scheme makes no seed funding available. Instead, they offer access to mentorship from BBC Worldwide staffers, company resources including office space out in White City if they need it, and the potential of a partnership at the end of it.
A while back I wrote about Wieden & Kennedy's Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE), an interesting initiative that has created an environment giving startups access to seed funding, office space, mentorship, potential investors and collaboration opportunities with some of Wieden's clients. I was (and still am) pretty positive about the idea. At the time, Stuart left an insightful comment on the post questioning whether the kind of resources provided by large organisations were really the kind that startups need. It's a good question. It's easy to assume that the answer to that would be yes, but if the startups make use of corporate office space, is that really the right environment for them? If the ultimate outcome is to form a commercial partnership, is that the optimum commercial partnership the startup has open to it? Might the startups find themselves sucked into the type of culture and processes that are inherent to large organisations? Stuart paraphrases Steve Blank in his comment, saying that startups are not smaller versions of large companies so the "help" larger companies give may be quite a hindrance.
Projects that support entrepreneurs should be applauded and I'm sure the BBC scheme makes provisions to deal with these kinds of considerations. But as these type of schemes become more popular, these are the kind of questions that both parties need to be asking themselves.