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Value canvas: How to use it to understand your corporation's innovation needs

May 10, 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.

Value canvas: How to use it to understand your corporation's innovation needs

At Tenity, we start almost every engagement with a value canvas. 

The value canvas is a document designed to help you understand what you want to achieve from your innovation programme and why. Completing the canvas is a crucial process in getting clarity on the kind of custom programme your company needs. 

We’ve found that companies that complete a value canvas before starting their innovation programs are better aligned internally, get better results from their programs and are better positioned to continue investing in innovation.

I’m the founding partner and general manager of Hackquarters, the startup accelerator company that’s now part of Tenity. In this article, I share what our value canvas is, why it matters, and how you can build one yourself. I cover: 

Interested in working with us on your innovation challenges? Get in touch with us to find out more. 

What is the value canvas?

The value canvas is a tool we use to help corporates understand and clarify their innovation goals and challenges. 

Your company has unique needs, in terms of budget, niche, experience, expectations, and goals. However, the reality is that you may not know exactly what your innovation needs are, or the right way to fulfil them. 

For example, you might think that investing in startups is the right path to innovation for your company. However, after completing a value canvas, you may realise that the most appropriate approach for you is first to run your own custom accelerator—or vice versa.  

At Tenity, we build custom innovation programmes for the corporates we work with (alongside the accelerators we run ourselves). No two accelerators can ever be the same, precisely because corporates’ goals and challenges differ so radically. So, for us to successfully build an accelerator—and for corporates to really benefit—we need to be on the same page about your goals. 

That’s where the value canvas comes in. To get this clarity on your innovation needs, the canvas asks key questions about why you're running the programme, who will be involved, and what resources and budget you expect. This way, it works as a jumping off point for the whole custom programme to come. 

However, it would be wrong to think of the value canvas as just a static document. Rather, it’s more useful as an exercise to guide the discussion about what you and your stakeholders want. It’s a great way to align everyone on what they expect from the innovation programme. 

What are the benefits of using a value canvas?

In my experience, the value canvas helps your company properly prepare for any innovation programme. It encourages you to think hard about your objectives before you start. 

Typically, we see three main benefits. 

1. The value canvas creates internal alignment on your innovation goals

One of the most important benefits of the value canvas is alignment. 

Before you work with an external innovation partner like Tenity, your internal teams need to be on the same page. Typically, while there might be general agreement that innovation is needed within an organisation, there are often many conflicting ideas as to why. 

For instance, the marketing team may see an accelerator programme primarily as a marketing opportunity. Product managers might see it as a way to build new products, while HR might see the chance to build a more innovative internal culture. 

Of course, innovation programmes can do all of these things, often at the same time. However, to do anything effectively, these teams need to agree on specific, concrete goals and ideally, one of those is the key priority. Otherwise, priorities shift, people become disappointed, and the program may fall flat on expectations. 

A value canvas nips that disappointment in the bud. It does so by starting every engagement by bringing every relevant person together to discuss the aims of the future programme. 

The more people the better—including the C-suite, representatives of different teams, and other stakeholders. This way, your whole organisation knows exactly what you want from your innovation. 

2. A value canvas defines the scope of your innovation programme and the resources you need to achieve results

An aligned organisation is better placed to define the sort of programme that you want to create. Yet, crucially, when every programme is custom to your organisation, the nature of that programme will be defined by the resources you make available to it. 

For instance, it goes without saying that if you want to build a six-month accelerator with 20 startups, it will cost a lot more than a smaller, shorter, two-week programme. However, not every corporate is willing to free up the budget that such an accelerator might require. 

When we speak of resources, though, we don’t just mean cost—even if that is a central concern of corporates when they speak to us at Tenity. Instead, it’s also about timing, people, and expertise. These need to be clarified before we launch your accelerator. 

Again, that’s what a value canvas is designed to do. It allows you to create an optimal budget for your desired results and goals. It helps you understand who needs to be available and when, plus how much that’s expected to cost. 

3. A value canvas helps you fully prepare for your innovation programme

Innovation is a tricky process. It doesn’t just require creativity and the right contacts. It also demands technical expertise, deep knowledge of regulation, the industry, and the market, plus a familiarity with internal guidance and best practices.

The reality is that some corporates come into the process of innovation underestimating the level of expertise they need. As a result, they face obstacles they likely won’t have prepared for. 

For instance, we have seen situations where corporates have offered investment to startups, without having first gained the right clearance from their internal legal team. Unsurprisingly, the startups have rejected that investment, as they haven’t been convinced by the details of the deal. It’s a particularly embarrassing situation that can cause real reputational damage to the corporate. 

Preparing for these technical challenges is a critical part of preparing for your innovation programme, then. A value canvas helps here too. It enables you to foresee issues that you may encounter throughout the process.

So, if investment is a goal of your programme, it’s crucial that you understand all the details of how to make this possible. Similarly, if you want to offer mentoring to startups, then you need to source those mentors, with the right expertise. 

It’s the only way to ensure that the whole programme can run as smoothly as possible—without any unforeseen hiccups. 

Three questions that a value canvas can help you to answer

To help you understand a bit more about the potential of the value canvas, I want to give you an example of the kinds of questions that it involves.

You can also use this opportunity to start thinking through some of the key issues you need to consider in your own innovation programme. 

1. What are we asking from the startups we want to work with? 

Corporate collaboration can take many forms. Many corporates may not have a clear idea of what their ideal collaboration would look like before they engage an innovation partner or startup. 

That’s why one of the key questions the value canvas asks you to consider is “What are you asking from startups?”. As a corporate, you may have different kinds of relationships of legal agreements in mind.

For instance, some corporates want complete exclusivity, so that startups can only work with their company. Others ask for a percentage stake in the startup as a prerequisite for collaboration. Alternatively, an arrangement like the right of first refusal might work best for you. 

Similarly, you might want a specific kind of human relationship with a startup. For instance, you may want startups to physically attend an accelerator, not just appear online. Similarly, you might want regular engagements with the founders. 

This section of the value canvas is your opportunity to clarify how you would ideally like this engagement to look. 

2. What will our stakeholders get? 

While it might be led by your corporate’s needs, a typical innovation programme does not just include corporates and startups. 

Instead, it has a diverse range of players, including internal teams and external partners. When you’re launching your innovation programme, you’ll need to think about what benefit you’re prepared to offer them in exchange for their participation. 

Your answer to this will likely depend on the particular stakeholder. For example, external partners may want their logo on the programme’s website and marketing materials. Meanwhile, mentors may be attracted by the opportunity to invest. 

At this stage, it’s also important to consider other internal factors about how your programme will run. Who will be involved? How often will you have meetings? How will information about milestones be shared?

There’s much to consider to make your programme a success for everyone involved. To align with everyone’s preferences, it’s best to make these decisions with as wide a group of internal stakeholders as possible. 

3. How do you envision success?

Another fundamental aspect of a successful programme is knowing what success actually looks like to you. While it might seem premature, how you will identify a successful programme is best defined before launch, during the value canvas process.

You might choose to set specific goals for your programme, based on your larger objectives. For instance, you might measure the number of proof of concepts (POCs) or the number of training sessions. Alternatively, you may base success on the amount you’ve invested in startups, or the attendants at your demo day

There’s no right way to measure this—only a way that makes sense to your company. As such, the innovation metrics you choose will need to align with the final goals of your custom programme.

Find out more about how to decide on the right innovation metrics and KPIs here. 

What role does the value canvas play in Tenity’s wider approach to innovation?

At Tenity, we use the value canvas to kick off our engagements with any corporate we decide to work with. Typically, after an initial introduction, I will ask corporates to complete the canvas. 

You can complete this in one of two ways. Firstly, we can complete it together in a guided session. Or you can go away and complete it within your organisation, so that you can involve as many stakeholders in the conversation as possible. 

It’s important to create the canvas as early on in the process as possible. We can then use this to determine the rest of the programme and build it around your needs as much as possible. 

Primarily, at Tenity, we can help you do three things as a corporate:

  • Learn about startups. We help corporates get exposure to startups, primarily by helping them participate in our own accelerator programmes. But if you’re not yet ready to participate, we can help you get clued up on trends, technologies, and pressing challenges within your industry.

  • Collaborate with startups. We also work as matchmakers in fintech, to help bring together corporates and relevant startups that are working on similar challenges. At this stage, we can help you collaborate with startups by building custom accelerators and incubators for your company.

  • Invest in startups. By bringing you together with startups, we help you invest in particularly promising companies. You can do this either directly or through our investment fund, where you can get access to a wider range of startups—and large returns on your investment. Learn more about our fintech-only fund.

Every corporate wants something different from these three offerings, depending on the particular stage of the innovation cycle they’re at. For instance, you may want strategic guidance on how to innovate, or you may just need simple startup scouting services. 

We can provide assistance in any part of the innovation cycle, in a way that’s completely tailored to your corporate. The value canvas helps us do that, to ensure that we build the custom programme that delivers the results you need.

Start your innovation journey with the value canvas

The value canvas is one of the key tools we use to build the most valuable innovation programme for corporates like you. It helps you clarify your goals, but it also gives us the springboard to deliver what you need. 

At Tenity, we create custom innovation programmes for corporates interested in working with startups in fintech. Over the years, we’ve worked with the likes of UBS, Julius Baer, and Franklin Templeton.

If your corporate is struggling to innovate or you’re simply interested in working alongside financial startups, we can help. Get in touch with to find out how we can work together.