Charleston’s blossoming tech scene—Silicon Harbor—continues to grow as entrepreneurs launch startups and companies open offices here or relocate all together. For the many entrepreneurs putting it all out there to get their startup off the ground, it makes sense to capitalize—sometimes literally—off the synergy from working with other startups. If you’d like to see your vision become part of the Silicon Harbor landscape, ask yourself how you feel about working with other entrepreneurs and startup ventures. Hopefully you see working with other like-minded people as a positive opportunity. When startups decide to work together they can achieve community visibility, networking opportunities, a sense of camaraderie, and group discounts.
Here are four ways that startups win when they join hands and move forward together.
Look for ways your venture can support other local businesses. This helps strengthen the local economy by keeping more of our money right here instead of sending it out. Many local companies can’t initially match prices with larger competitors, but you may be able to look at ways to partner for discounts. By making most of your purchases through other local companies you’re using your resources to say that supporting other companies in the area is important to you. The local business community will value your support and in turn be more likely to support your venture. It is, after all, about building relationships.
I learned firsthand about Charleston startups working together through the combination of Distil Union, a local product design startup, and Weather Flow. Distil Union provided industrial design services, package design services and support services throughout Weather Flow’s manufacturing process. This helped Weather Flow launch their Wind Meter for capturing and monitoring wind speed [Read the full story]. Weather Flow has been able to create an entire line of smart phone applications that monitor wind speed for different activities. What a great example of companies coming together with different skill sets to benefit one another as well as the community as a whole.
Think about talking with other local businesses about how you can partner up to keep talent in the community. Within close proximity to Charleston you’ll find a handful of colleges and universities and you can use that fact to your advantage. Team up with other local businesses to put on a job fair as college graduation dates near. Don’t worry about whether the other local company is a potential competitor. Chances are you are looking into the same talent pool already, so make it an advantage. By working together you can help graduates understand the amount of opportunities available locally. Keep in mind that your next intern may become your next star employee.
Startups can also look for ways to partner up for community-focused events as both will benefit from the local exposure. Ways to do this could include combining employees to help complete volunteer work for a charity or by co-sponsoring local events. By working together as companies you’re also helping the community understand that even competitors can work together for a great cause. Has your company thought about running a campaign to collect goods or raise funding for a local charity? Talk with other businesses to increase visibility of the cause. Hopefully by running the same campaign across multiple companies you can greatly increase the amount of funds or goods collected for the charity.
How do you interact with other startups and businesses in the community? Are you on their radars? Provide value back into the business community by providing an outlet for your employees. Do you host presentations or learning opportunities for your own employees? If so, why not open them up to other companies’ employees in the area? The events could be free or you could charge a nominal fee to accommodate additional people. If a topic doesn’t have enough demand within your own company send an email with signup information out to other businesses to see if any of their people might have an interest.
Another great way to network is through friendly competition. Launch a cross company intramural sports league for bowling, corn-hole or basketball. Get together and collectively sponsor prizes for the winning teams. This is a great way for employees to relax, network and still rally around your business.
Startups can achieve group discounts by partnering up their purchasing power in a variety of ways. Are you trying to lower the cost of office supplies that are common between both businesses? Partner up your supply budgets to leverage volume discounts on frequently used items. Combining budgets doesn’t have to be limited to strictly business activities. Often local events will have group rates to sporting events, concerts and festivals. You can also combine budgets to achieve better rates on services for employees. You may be surprised that you can get group discounts on everything from insurance, employee benefits and local services. Several ways exist to work with local service providers who very well could be startup businesses themselves. You can partner with another business to activate a discounted group rate or you could try partnering together for reciprocal referrals. Depending on your industry’s offering, cross marketing one another’s services may provide more long-term value.
However you decide to work with other startups and businesses keep an open mind. You may find that competition can be friendly and fierce all at the same time.
Jef Lippiatt is a co-founder of Startup Chucktown, an organization focused on being a resource for Charleston area startups of all industries. Their mission is to help connect the startup movement in the Charleston area by providing resources, social media exposure and local events. Jef is also a co-founder of OG Represent, a social web app for discovering emerging hip-hop remixes and emerging artists. Jef is a User Experience Designer and Business Strategist.