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Corporations and startups: the ultimate match

Beyond the digitalization of manufacturing, another huge benefit for this 4th industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 is leveraging digitalization and innovation to solve sustainability challenges. Sustainability can only be achieved at scale through innovation. Although most companies agree on this importance, many face challenges to implement new ideas effectively and quickly, in a fast-changing VUCA world.

Developing innovations to solve these problems can be done in various ways, one of the most progressive ways is through collaborations between corporations and startups. Startups by definition are agile and flexible, quickly adjusting plans, or ‘pivoting’ to customers’ needs, emerging market trends, and sustainability challenges. Startups are an invaluable source of business ideas and collaborating with them provides significant larger enterprises with a rare opportunity and lens into newer approaches and technologies. Conversely, startups benefit from corporate experience especially with respect to sales & marketing relationships, vetting compelling value propositions and new business models, and manufacturing scale-up know-how.

80% of corporations believe startups can have a positive impact on a large company’s approach to innovation, according to a research conducted by Unilever Foundry, a global platform for startups and innovators. Yet surprisingly, other research from Innovation Leader, tells us that only 45% of corporations actually engage with startups. This means that over half of the number of corporate players in the market are missing out on a great opportunity and much-needed challenge to status quo. Why?

Traditional corporations may be hesitant to adopt the purpose driven spirit that many startups instill. They also may not have dedicated teams on internal innovation that set-up to make the most of these external collaborations. Startups challenge established companies like ours by injecting fresh, agile approaches to problem solving and project delivery.

In the area of sustainability, startups play a key role in providing innovative solutions and business models that are working towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). At BASF Canada our partnerships with startups allow us to serve our customers better, while finding answers to the big challenges facing the world today: world hunger, gender equality, responsible consumption and production, and climate action, among others.

A few examples of BASF Canada collaborating with startups and innovators:

Bulky is an AI-enhanced software startup for shippers to match chemical bulk freight loads with available tanker capacity. This ensures less waste in empty trucks on the road. Bulky also demonstrated its agility to pivot in service of societal needs during COVID-19, by creating the Rapid Response Platform (RRP). A platform supported by BASF and dozens of industry associations, RRP instantly matches Canadian manufacturers with all types of small and large businesses who suddenly need supplies as they slowly re-open and provide COVID-19 pandemic supplies including hand sanitizer, surgical masks, N95 masks, surface sanitizer, face shields and gowns. Broadly RRP offers government unique insights, especially as Canada has an eye on building up domestic supply capability.

Plug and Play, the world’s largest global innovation platform, is expanding their global reach to Toronto, with BASF Canada as their first partner in the Canadian market. This partnership aims to incentivize and stimulate the ecosystem in Canada, while it provides us – and our valued Customers – with a chance to work with startups to test solutions and foster innovation across the various industries we operate in.  This is an important step to ensure that Canada remains a leader in harboring talent that creates an ecosystem for startups that not only operate here but provide solutions to the Canadian marketplace.

In an effort to offer the opportunity to startups to pitch their ideas and solutions BASF Canada hosted a startup challenge at the Chemistry Industry Association of Canada’s Good Chemistry Conference. This was a chance for dozens of companies to pitch their solutions to a panel of colleagues in the chemical industry. Among the dozens of applications, 4 companies were chosen to pitch their solution in a Dragon’s Den style session with the winner receiving $20,000. The winner’s technology not only supports innovation within the chemical industry, it also supports the work behind chemical recycling of plastics and enabling a circular economy.

At GLOBE 2020 in Vancouver, B.C., BASF Canada announced the Recichain pilot project. The pilot aims to prove and incentivize circularity within the plastic value chain. Recichain uses a track and trace technology and blockchain solution, designed by startup SMX, to ensure traceability and secure transactions along the plastics value chain. As plastic flows through the waste cycle, plastics value chain players are able to generate ‘tokens’ or ‘credits’, which increase in value as the waste material flows through additional loops –   thereby incentivizing producers to design for recyclability and enable a circular economy.

Sustainability goals can only be achieved through innovation, within which digital technologies play a core role. For me personally, scouting for new talent and seeing the drive for purpose within many of these startups is a source of inspiration. Their ability to operate at a faster pace and their problem solver mindset is refreshing. Connecting our work with social purpose and impact is a huge opportunity and an imperative for today’s talent. I challenge my fellow corporates across Canada to give this a try, to explore a pilot project with meaningful potential to move the needle.


Authored: Irene Yang, Director of Business Development and Innovation

Media Contacts: Lorena Lujan / Marlena Mista
lorena.lujan-rubio@basf.com / marlena.mista@basf.com
647-236-6376 / 905-301-2740