May 24, 2011 • By

Nine tips for entrepreneurs

For an entrepreneur, the idea of taking your innovation and sharing it with someone else – let alone a large corporation – can be an intimidating, if not daunting, task.

Which company would be the best partner? How do you ensure you’re protected from a legal perspective? How will you benefit?

If your goals are to take your product or technology to the next level, speed its time to market and grow its distribution to have a national or even global reach, then you may find value in exploring a partnership with a larger company.

There are several variables to consider when venturing into this type of partnership. Based on General Mills’ experience in working on a wide range of projects with partners of all sizes, we have identified the following nine tips for entrepreneurs seeking to develop a successful partnership with a larger company.

Create a differentiated opportunity

Articulate the unique and proprietary aspects of your product. How is it different and how is it better than anything on the market? Is there an opportunity to be first to market with a breakthrough new product? Explaining the unique benefits of your innovation up front will give the company a reason to take a closer look at your proposal.

Test your innovation

Develop a pedigree for the product. You will be ahead of the game if you are able to get your innovation into the hands of its end user. This will allow you to speak to the in-market performance and the consumer or retailer reaction. Some of our partners, for example, came to us with insights from selling their products on the Internet, in small regional grocery chains or on college campuses. That learning can go a long way toward helping a company understand the unique consumer benefits of your product.

Be selective

Focus on your lead candidate and avoid courting multiple partners at once. A company wants to know you are committed and willing to work together to ensure that the opportunity will produce competitive advantages in the marketplace. And remember, most companies, including General Mills, want to create relationships for the long term. Take the time and do it right.

Find a contact to be your champion

Navigating the politics and processes of a large corporation can be challenging. Having a tour guide is very helpful. For example, at General Mills your key contact will be a member of the General Mills Worldwide Innovation Network team, our company’s external innovation group. The G-WIN team is always available to answer potential partners’ questions about our organization, our processes and about partnerships in general.

Do your homework on the potential partner

Use available public information to educate yourself on your potential partner’s lines of business, key strategies, industry and competitors. You should also familiarize yourself with the economics of the industry so you are well-versed in the financials before getting into any conversations about important details such as licensing fees. For example, potential partners can obtain company background and information on our approach to external partnerships from these videos.

Connect the dots

Make the connection between your proposed innovation and the company’s business model and brand. For which product platform or division do you envision it to be a good fit? How would this help the company’s bottom line?

Demonstrate you can deliver

Describe your team’s experience in the industry. Prove that your product is scalable to the volume demands of the partner’s business. Have any claims you make about the product validated (e.g., health claims), and be sure to speak to the company’s priorities. For General Mills, food quality and safety are important, and our company wants to know you share the same values. If you do not have the expertise in a certain area – manufacturing, safety, etc. – don’t be afraid to tap outside consultants to develop those capabilities within your operation.

Have a business model in mind

Communicate the type of opportunity you are looking for, but stay flexible. Oftentimes, it makes the most sense to start with a smaller opportunity and then grow that into a broader, deeper partnership.

Part on good terms

If either or both companies in the partnership decide to pass on an opportunity, walk away gracefully and leave the door open to future collaborations. Often it is just a matter of timing – the best opportunity for collaboration may not be the first proposal, so maintaining rapport is an important element of eventual success.

Open innovation is an emerging trend, so be on the lookout for opportunities to grow your business through this type of joint venture. Regardless of whether you are in the food industry or another trade, stay mindful of the above suggestions, and you will be well-prepared to enter into a mutually beneficial partnership with another company.

If you think your innovation is a good fit for General Mills’ business, our G-WIN team would like to hear from you.

Through G-WIN, we seek external partners with patented or patent-pending technologies or commercialized products that would be complementary to our brands and businesses.

Prospective partners may submit patented or patent-pending innovations to the G-WIN team through a Web portal at GeneralMills.com/WIN, or may contact the team with other inquiries by calling 763-764-4946 (GWIN).