3 steps to revolutionise your relationship with innovators

On the 2nd of September we hosted 20 Construction professionals, developers and startups and set them the challenge of unpicking “Procuring innovation in construction”. In this article, we sum up the findings and insights taken from this event.
Qflow's roundtable event on procurement

Pre-qualify your relationships 

“How do you find innovations to solve your problems?” and “how do you get your innovation in front of the right people?” 

It appears that corporates deploy a combination of googling, reviewing industry journals and waiting for the start-up to find them. Start-ups spend hours searching corporate websites and news articles to understand their problems, and scouring LinkedIn for the right person to contact. 

The sad thing is, both these groups actually want to work together, and would benefit from a more transparent process to connect. 

Attending industry events with one eye open, awaiting the serendipitous approach of a talented start-up with the solution to your company’s troubles, is a tedious way to innovate. 

And for start-ups, applying a scatter gun approach, doing our best using the high level corporate targets on your website, and LinkedIn, to establish a relationship that is mutually beneficial is painfully time consuming, and often ineffective. 

But there is a really simple solution to solve both the Corporate and Start-up pains! 

Pre-quality the relationship! 

As a corporate, you can pre-qualify the start-ups and innovators that approach you by publicising these things on your website. 

Start-ups always want to pre-qualify a lead by establishing that: 

1. You have the problem they are fixing 
2. You are open to innovations at their Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 
3. The person they are talking to is the ‘owner’ of this space 

By making your challenges or objectives clear, you reduce the number of left-field approaches you receive, that just doesn’t serve a need for you. To make sure you don’t miss out on something new you didn’t know you needed but could be a huge win for your company, I would keep a door open for other innovations. 

By publicising what minimum TRL you want to work with, you ensure that you do not waste time talking to companies that are not ready for your risk profile. 

By providing a clear route to the right people, you not only eliminate all the non-starter conversations, but also ensure that the person assessing an innovation is someone who knows and feels the pain that is being addressed. It is no good explaining an environmental compliance solution to a structural engineer… they won’t get it or care. 

By being open about your needs and entry point you can rationalise the number and quality of approaches by start-ups. For start-ups this pre-qualifies you as the right company to work with as they develop their solution and grow their business. 

Break the chicken and the egg 

In construction there is an interesting dynamic between contractors and clients; one that somewhat reflects the pains of start-ups to corporates. It is the infamous problem of supply and demand, but you will not demand what you do not think can be supplied, and you will not be able to scale supply if there is no demand. 

The construction industry has taken the somewhat incremental approach to innovation, deploying marginally better solutions, and allowing truly aspirational developers and regulation to drive further adoption. However, in order to achieve the monumental change that is required to get construction running sustainably (both in terms of profit and impact) we must take a different approach. 

How do we break this cycle? 

Sharing the risk and sharing the cost — easier said than done, but still possible with the right conversations. Start-ups need to find smarter ways to absorb some of the early risk, and early cost of innovations, and to be able to claim that value back at a later date. This may be in the form of offering trials that demonstrate overwhelming savings and performance that mollify their clients concerns over cost and consistency. 

Or this maybe in the form of a long term service and replace contract for new materials; sort of like selling insurance to the client, reassuring them that should it not perform down the line, they will not be left with a dodgy system, and allowing start-ups to gain further fees to subsidise the increased capital cost. 

This approach to risk sharing may eliminate some of the initial barriers, however there is still an important role for developers to play in demanding more from their supply chain, and being willing to share some of the cost of trying new things. 

Know and define your process 

A fellow founder recommended a book “The checklist manifesto” by Atul Gawande; it describes the power of a good list to help us get things right in the face of unfathomable complexity. Procuring new suppliers is challenging enough, without the added complexity of ‘unproven track records’ and ‘new business models’ thrown in the mix. 

However after a hearty discussion with some of the industries brightest and best, we all agreed that a good process could go a long way to resolve these issues. Despite the obvious differences between companies, there are some key gate keepers, and hoops to be jumped through that are consistent; but having a checklist of these people, and what they want to see from a new innovative solution, we can do our best to streamline this process for all involved. These lists deserve a post in their own right, so watch this space. 

Summary 

It is amazing what can be achieved in an afternoon with ample tea and biscuits. But all this pontificating is useless without action. As a start-up we will ensure we communicate our TRL, and solutions to corporates in as clean and concise a manner as possible. We will continue to develop ways to share risk, and prove value on your projects, and we will keep a good checklist to keep complexity under control.  

What can you do? 

1. Define your needs and TRL you want to engage with 

2. Discuss opportunities to share risk with your innovators 

3. Define your process in a checklist that you can share with your team 

If you want to learn more about how we are innovating in the construction industry, check out our article “Deconstructing Construction – Qflow one year in”

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