Home Community Hacking the Enterprise: How Corporate-Hosted Startup Engagement Events Can Actually Be Useful

Hacking the Enterprise: How Corporate-Hosted Startup Engagement Events Can Actually Be Useful

by Carie Davis

Events that involved both corporations and startups can be invigorating. Corporate employees can emerge out of their cubicles and hobnob with entrepreneurs who throw out startup buzzwords over craft beer.

Unfortunately, once the sparkle settles, there are typically no tangible results from these meetings — but we can change that. Here’s a rundown of the most effective approaches to corporate-hosted startup engagement events.

Reverse pitching

Instead of the typical pitch where startups present their business ideas to an audience of your employees, have company representatives pitch business challenges to startups, who can then prototype and present solutions.


  • Share your challenges with a large group who have the skills and interest to create solutions
  • Uncover novel approaches that didn’t surface during attempts to build solutions in-house
  • Significantly more cost-effective than the usual build or buy options


  • The corporation must be able and willing to speak publicly in detail about their business challenges
  • There’s no guarantee that something will be developed immediately

How to make it work

  • Be clear about your desired outcomes, in as open and specific a manner as possible
  • Have a clear path for how you want to interact with people after the event. Are you looking to hire outright or do you have funding to hire teams on a contractual basis to continue working on their prototype?

corporate innovation events

Shark Tank-style pitch events

Bring a small number (4-10) of pre-vetted startups into your office for a demo day-style pitch session. Invite an audience to hear the pitches and network with startups in hopes of finding opportunities to collaborate.


  • It can be difficult to lure corporate employees to events outside the office, particularly after-hours. With this model you bring the startups to them.
  • The startups are pre-vetted so that only the most relevant appear on stage, making it easier for corporate teams to see a match.


  • Without direction, no one knows what they are supposed to do after the event. Have answers ready to “Can I work with startups?” “How do I do that?”

How to make it work

  • Ensure that people understand why you are bringing these startups into the organization. How does it relate to the overall innovation strategy of the corporation?
  • Run a workshop before the event to train employees how to work with startups.

Field Trips

Jump on the magic school bus and check out this startup workspace with bean bags and a kegerator! Corporations shuttle their employees to co-working spaces, accelerators and startup offices for inspirational tours.


  • It’s exciting to see startup environments and to meet people who are using technology to build new business models.


  • This approach can become what we call “innovation theater.” It typically leads to zero action. Observing startups like exhibits at the zoo will not translate to results in the home office. The primary lesson that is typically taken back — namely, that open plan offices are cool — has even been debunked.

How to make it work

  • Don’t just ask startups for a tour, invite them into a discussion about how you might collaborate. Share your challenges and objectives with them and only visit startups you would consider exploring a partnership with, not just the “coolest” ones who have no overlap with your business.


A hackathon is a building sprint where teams of people from the community (typically a mix of professionals, freelancers, entrepreneurs and students) build new products or solve a problem. This one or two-day event engages local design, development and marketing talent to build novel solutions in a somewhat competitive, somewhat collaborative — always intense — environment, culminating in a final pitch to a judging panel, prizes, and potential work with a corporation in some capacity after the event.


  • Break through the confines of current resources and get a fresh take on an old (or new) problem
  • Demonstrate your company’s openness to experimentation and collaborating with the community
  • With a focus on core business innovation, local talent can quickly identify and validate solutions, so you can deliver on near-term strategic plans


  • This model can take a lot of coordination. If you want to go DIY, check out this Ultimate Guide to Corporate Hackathons for tools and templates we use when throwing internal and external hackathons for clients

How to make it work

  • Choose a specific, real-world problem in order to bring out a more experienced crowd and make your hackathon stand out from the rest
  • Do not require that participants sign over rights to any intellectual property they create or bring with them into the event. This is not an acceptable process anymore (read: no one will come to your event). Come to the table as a potential collaborator looking for help, not a bully

Throwing events is a ton of work. If it feels overwhelming, start with simply attending or sponsoring a startup/technology event in your community. Great places to find these opportunities are local, curated community calendars and event listing sites like Eventbrite or Meetup. You can save yourself some digging and check out the monthly Atlanta Corporate Innovation Bare Necessities newsletter — start with event and B2B startup picks for August ‘18 and a bonus rundown of fall corporate innovation events you don’t want to miss.

Carie Davis is a former Coca-Cola Global Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. She started Your Ideas Are Terrible and The Enterprise Growth Institute and serves as Program Director of the BridgeCommunity. She works with global companies to implement tools & systems for a steady flow of validated ideas.

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