How to connect with early-stage startups.

Who are the next up and comers who will soar above the rest and make their mark? With more than a billion websites crowding the internet and American entrepreneurs alone starting 530,000 startups a month; visibility is low and breaking through the masses is a full time job.

There are lots of reasons why even large technology enterprises like Cisco, which has unlimited resources at their disposal, are constantly engaging with startups. Whether it is just to see what innovative technologies are being built by entrepreneurs, or to crowdsource their internal innovation challenges, corporations have to engage with startups if they don’t want to end up like Palm or Alcatel.

Luckily, now there are resources and databases like Mattermark, Angelist and Crunchbase to connect with millions of startups. However, trying to find the right startups in these databases is going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. Keep in mind that entrepreneurs are very paranoid creatures, even with signed NDAs and air-tight privacy policies, they are reluctant to share any information about their startups. So gathering meaningful insights about startups is nearly impossible with the available data, like: funding, employee count, and industry tags.

Another option is to go to an innovation consultant which will cost you a pretty penny. The solutions they provide will most likely be the result from startup programs in the form of a global startup competition, a hackathon or an accelerator/incubator program. Although hackathons, accelerators and competitions are same in their core, sourcing startups, the timeframe and frequency of the results are going to differ. Hackathons are designed to address one problem and physical accelerators have logistical barriers; however, startup competitions can be run globally and tailored to the innovation needs of your enterprise.

Startup competitions are about more than bragging rights and prize money. The real value of startup competitions lies in human evaluation and networking opportunities.

Human evaluation allows for corporations to create parameters and evaluate startups on issues that matter to them. For example Genentech recently ran “The Quest Awards”, a competition focused on identifying viable solutions to fight cervical cancer. Genentech connected with multiple startups around the world all working on solving the same problem that Genentech was focused on. The finalists received $50,000 and four months of extensive mentoring; which can be argued to be the best prize of all. Networking can yield more return on investment than any other tool (both financial and non-monetary). It is crucial for corporations and industry leaders to network with startups to identify emerging tech trends which could either create an opportunity for partnership or disrupt their industry. Genentech wanted to stay ahead of the curve and find a way to engage with the next generation of bio-tech startups focused on cervical cancer. The Quest Award is an ideal example of how corporations can tailor a startup competition to connect with specific startups.

A startup competition requires many stakeholders and lots of organizing. There are many application management tools who can help run a startup competition smoothly. YouNoodle provides a bespoke platform and offers end to end services to deliver the results of a custom designed startup competition. YouNoodle is experienced in delivering top global startups and has become recognizable to entrepreneurs as a way for startups to connect to opportunities for growth.