When Seeking Partners, Look for the un-Usual Suspects

April 1st, 2013
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For many new and growing companies, it’s not enough to have a plan for identifying strategic partners. You also need to successfully implement the plan—and that’s often easier said than done.
Reaching your company goals will no doubt require more capital, perhaps new investors to inject that capital, more third-party involvement, and probably a partner to help with product commercialization. New outside stakeholders add another dimension to your goals; now you’ll need to see how your product/service fits into someone else’s strategy.
How do you find the right fit? The answer actually lies in getting creative in a way that expands the universe of potential partners.
For a company developing a new diagnostic marker, for example, the initial list of possible partners is familiar looking. Those likely to have an interest in the new product would include large diagnostics, pharmaceuticals, and biotech companies developing treatments for whatever your marker could diagnose. But these “usual suspects” are barraged with offers for partnerships and requests for financial assistance just like yours. Adding to this fact is that healthcare product development and technology innovation is risky, requires a long time horizon relative to many other investments, and is more capital-intensive than most other industries. In a perfect world, the usual suspects would always be interested. In reality, that rarely happens.
This is where creativity comes in, where it helps to leverage a mix of diverse perspectives to discover not-so-obvious partnership possibilities. As an example, recently we’ve been developing a business development strategy for a company with a product in the emotional wellness field. Wanting to go beyond the “usual suspects”, we asked, could a very different type of partner be interested? One possible answer: Starbucks. While Starbucks is of course known for coffee, they also spend a good deal of time thinking of the customer experience, which ties into emotional and mental states of mind. In addition, the coffee company probably isn’t getting a lot of partnering requests from medical innovation companies – thus, less competition for our client.
The need to get creative, then, is driven by a necessity to take a lot of shots on goal. And, of course, you’ll still need to validate your creativity, to learn if the company added to your list has the interest, resources, time, and management ability to pursue a relationship with your company.
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About the Author:

I co-founded Popper and Company more than ten years ago to help life science companies at all stages of development and of all sizes address inefficiencies in health care. Along with my team members, I focus on helping clients develop and implement strategies that enable the application of technology and processes to improve health care in novel ways, often through the establishment of relationships with industry partners. Click to send me an email.