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How to make a business case for your corporate innovation programme

April 12, 2024

Kaan Akin

Kaan Akin serves as the Chief Commercial Officer at Tenity, where he and his team steer a $110 million fund to advance global fintech and insurtech sectors. His expertise in corporate innovation has established him as a key strategist, working with over 40 corporate clients to enhance their open innovation strategies.

How to make a business case for your corporate innovation programme

If you’re planning a corporate innovation programme—particularly if it’s your organisation’s first one—you’ll probably face some challenges when it comes to funding:

  • How do you make the business case for the programme within your corporate?
  • Where will your budget come from?
  • Which departments will sponsor or support the programme?
  • How do you get the resources for everything you want to do?

The central problem that you’ll face when trying to run the company’s first ever innovation programme is that since it hasn’t been done before and there’s no department dedicated to it, it’s unlikely there will be a prepared budget. Getting the funding will likely be your main priority when you launch your first ever programme. 

I’m the founding partner and general manager of Hackquarters, which is now part of Tenity, a startup accelerator and corporate innovation company. Based on my experience working in innovation programmes, in this article I’ll share some insights into how you can secure budget for your corporate’s innovation programme. 

I will cover the following points:

Interested in finding out more about launching an accelerator or innovation programme? Get in touch with Tenity.

How to decide where the budget comes from for an innovation programme

When corporates look into investing more into innovation, they usually won’t have a budget set aside for innovation programmes. 

This is completely normal, as accelerators and incubators are not something that organisations are routinely doing. If right now you’re in the process of securing innovation budget, know that:

  • The first year of an innovation programme is critical, as it’s the year when you’ll need to go out and actively find that budget. In my experience, it’s the highest-performing individuals who plan and organise innovation programmes from scratch—and they’re usually prepared to work hard to secure buy-in.

  • After the first year of a programme when you start to see results, it becomes clearer where that money will come from. Of course, budgets can change, but you’ll have a solid starting point, and it’s often easier to make the case for funding. 

This means that most of the hard work typically happens in that first year of your programme. To clarify where your budget can come from at this point, there are two fundamental questions to think through. 

1. What are you primarily trying to achieve in your programme?

Every corporate has a different motivation to launch an innovation programme. Some of those may be:

  • To inspire their internal teams with ideas through exposure to startups and entrepreneurship. 
  • To access new sales opportunities or revenue streams, by connecting startups with their clients.
  • To boost their corporate social responsibility (CSR), by funding new sustainable products or ESG offerings.
  • To bring innovative solutions that could make a product very competitive in the market or at least to test innovations in the pipeline by collaborating with startups.

No two programmes are ever the same. As someone leading an innovation programme, it’s your job to clarify exactly what it is you want to achieve—so that you can identify where the budget should come from and who should be your sponsors. 

For instance, HR will most likely provide the budget for a programme that focuses on improving your corporate culture. Meanwhile, sales may have budget for innovation if it promises them new business opportunities. Or marketing may have budget if your work will help with branding the company as a leader in innovation.

Of course, your innovation programme may ultimately help you achieve all of the above goals for each relevant department. However, to get sponsorship in the first year of your programme, you’ll likely need to focus on one department-specific goal.

2. Where is the money available?

In many cases, particularly in that critical first year, you may find that you don’t have many options available for funding. If you’re committed to your innovation programme, you’ll have to find the budget wherever you can. 

In fact, in these cases, you may need to be more flexible with your programme’s goals than you would have originally planned. If CSR budget is available, you may need to give your programme a focus on social responsibility. Or if HR has budget to spare, you’ll likely need to add an element that’s relevant to your company culture. 

Finding budget is always more of an art than a science. There’s no simple answer to where this money can come from. Instead, it requires negotiation, discussion, and flexibility—and you may find resources in places that you hadn’t expected.

Tips to get a sponsor on board with your innovation programme

It’s not easy to find the budget you need for your programme, particularly before it’s run long enough to deliver results. 

Yet there are ways to make it easier. One of these is to get the C-suite onside as soon as possible, as they’ll be influential in helping you make the case for innovation across your programme. 

Getting sponsorship from the C-suite is important for two main reasons:

  • They can manage alignment. For instance, a significant challenge that you may face when it comes to long-term projects is personnel changes, with people moving from role to role or even outside of the organisation. The C-suite, though, is often one of the corporate’s main points of stability—enabling them to oversee larger projects and manage alignment into the future.

  • They can wield influence to manage expectations. Another common sticking point around innovation programmes is that they don’t bring an immediate ROI. They’re not like other business functions, such as sales, which can immediately deliver measurable results. Instead, innovation takes time to have an impact. And before it does, it’s important that someone with authority can make the case that it’s still worth it. 

So how do you secure this buy-in? In my experience, there are three ways you can get a sponsor on board:

1. Identify potential sponsors who are already bought-in to the idea of innovation

Like everyone else in business, executives have a life outside of the company. They may already have their own interests in innovation, accelerators, or startups. In fact, they may already be investing in startups, or they may have contacts or resources in the startup world.

It’s these members of the C-suite that are typically the most receptive to innovation programmes. They’ll likely see the potential value of a programme, even if you don’t have any results to show just yet. 

Plus, they may have resources, alongside budget, that may be useful to an innovation programme. For instance, you could use their influence or network to identify potential participants in the programme, such as investors or mentors. They might already be investing in startups and have already seen what success looks like.

Regardless, executives who are interested in innovation are always good to have as part of the programme team. It’s best to do your research into their backgrounds and interests to see who might be the best to approach. 

2. Tailor your pitch to the challenges that potential sponsors are facing

As I noted above, you’ll likely have to adjust your programme’s goals to those departments that may have budget. In the same way, when you approach them, you’ll need to make the case for their sponsorship based on their specific goals and pain points. 

For instance, maybe your product department has created a solution that’s just not competitive in the market. In this situation, you can pitch the accelerator as a way for their teams to innovate new products alongside expertise from startups. 

Alternatively, if your sales team is not performing well, you can pitch your accelerator as the means to find a new sales channel. 

Every department may have a problem that can be solved through innovation programmes. Before you approach them, identify what that is and leverage it in your pitch for budget.

3. Make a public announcement about your plans, to attract buy-in from across your organisation

While they may be the most influential people in your organisation, you don’t want buy-in from your C-suite alone. Rather, you want the whole organisation to get excited about your innovation programme, to participate, and to bring their own skills and experience. 

What’s more, just like your executives, your colleagues may have their own networks and resources that could be used to improve your accelerator. And with more people on board, the greater leverage you have when requesting funding.

To get this buy-in, it can help to make a corporate-wide or public announcement about your plans. This can involve sharing some of your goals, such as bringing sustainable startups together or impacting the local economy. 

It’s also good to reiterate to the wider company that open innovation programmes are common in nearly all Forbes 500 companies, and that these types of programmes are required to remain competitive in the industry. 

You’ll likely see a lot of support for your programme among your colleagues. In my experience, these sorts of ideas inspire people by taking them out of their routines. 

What does the budget look like for an accelerator programme?

One of the themes of this article is that every accelerator programme is different. Inevitably, every budget will be different too. 

At Tenity, we build custom accelerators for corporates based on their unique goals, strategies, schedules, and priorities. Once we’ve taken the time to understand their needs, we build a custom budget tailored to those requirements. 

All the costs of the accelerator will be included within that fee. However, as a corporate, you may need to consider budget for other additional expenditures too:

  • The cost of your internal team. Most innovation programmes require some internal resources, including staffing costs, marketing resources, and more. 
  • Additional incentives and grants for startups. At the end of an innovation programme, there’s no guarantee your corporate will buy any solution from the startup. That’s why it’s advisable to offer a grant to make participation in your programme worthwhile. It also gives startups capacity to hire extra staff if required. 

While at Tenity we don’t charge any additional costs, we typically find that corporates want to commit more budget to the programme as it progresses, whether for marketing, HR purposes, or something else. Typically, sponsors are perfectly happy to provide that extra budget. 

Two examples of innovation programmes with different objectives

To end, I want to share two examples of innovation programmes that we built for corporates. We built them based on different budgets, with different goals and departments in mind. 

  • XRPL Accelerator: Launch Programme. The XRP Ledger is an open-source public blockchain. For XRPL, we designed an accelerator programme to support projects looking to build—or already building—on the XRP ledger. As such, the programme was built to meet XRPL’s sales and growth goals, by encouraging tech startups to use the ledger.

    Across six weeks, in Singapore and London, teams worked to validate their products, identify ideal customers, and pitch for funding. The programme came with the chance for startups to earn up to $100k in funding.

  • Workup4Future. The Workup4Future Program is a social impact entrepreneurship program we've been running in partnership with the Türkiye İş Bankası and Turkey Entrepreneurship Foundation (GİRVAK). It sought to provide support to entrepreneurs working to produce innovative solutions within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals. Over the four-month programme, climate-tech, agritech and other type of startups aiming to create social impact, benefit from mentoring from experts in their fields, workshops, inspirational events, and the opportunity to meet with investors.

Partner with Tenity for your innovation programmes

At Tenity, we work with financial corporates to enable them to meet their innovation goals by working with relevant startups. 

Whether you’re at the beginning of your innovation journey, or you’re ready to build an accelerator programme, we can help. We can also assist you in determining where your budget should come from and who the appropriate sponsors could be. 

If your corporate is interested in innovating, reach out to us to find out how we can help.