Matchmaking for Corporates and Start-ups: A Product Journey

As Cleantech Group unveiled its new i3 online platform on September 27, Director of Product Development Jules Besnainou tells the story of what brought about the major shift in the product’s direction, and describes where it is headed.

When I joined Cleantech Group in early 2012, my job was straightforward: to maintain i3, a database of transactions in the cleantech space. At the time, the platform was mainly geared toward investors, and the data came from manual inputs of a top-notch Research team. VCs trusted us to keep them up-to-date on the latest and greatest in sustainable innovation.

Things changed in a big way when some of the corporates that were disrupting the venturing market started signing up to i3. They faced very different challenges than traditional investors. How to find the right start-ups, then evaluate and get in touch with them efficiently? How to build internal champions for investments, acquisitions or partnerships? How to execute deals—at scale–to meet both financial and strategic objectives? How to collaborate on deal flow within their large organization?

The opportunity to help these corporates succeed at innovation was huge for us, but we soon realized our platform was not there yet.

We needed to find our product mojo.

Over a period of several months, we tried to learn everything possible about our corporate users: their daily tasks, pain points, and needs when it came to building and maintaining their innovation pipeline. We found that:

  1. Big corporates compete aggressively to recruit the best start-ups
  2. Building buy-in for a strategic deal in a large multinational is close to mission impossible
  3. Start-up CEOs will gladly trade business data for an intro to the right exec at a potential corporate partner

We saw a green-field opportunity in those learnings. Our new product needed to i3 PO screenshots v2provide corporate users with reliable data on the best start-ups. In exchange for this data, we would give start-up CEOs access to the right audience at the GEs and GMs of the world. From our 10+ years of doing this in the physical world, we had the right network to deliver.

For a year, we iterated on contributed content, messaging, pipeline management, challenges and other connectivity features we built on top of our old-school database. It was a big success. CEOs signed up by the hundreds and corporate teams started sharing deal-flow through i3. In the first half of 2014, we saw more start-ups claiming and updating their profile than we did in all of 2013.

The new i3, which was released on September 27th, seamlessly integrates these social features while boasting the widest and deepest data set in sustainable innovation. Corporate users are now able to get in touch with the best start-ups worldwide, and easily keep track of what their internal team is doing to build their innovation pipeline. Start-up CEOs have more opportunities to find their next partner or investor.

In the coming months, we’ll go even further down the online network path, allowing corporates to own their profiles and tell start-ups about what they’re really looking for.