Think of a word that describes a process vital to innovation. Connectivity. Transformation perhaps. But safari?

Leaders of established companies may be tempted to see entrepreneurs and start-ups as a threat, disruptors shaking up the natural order and challenging the big beasts as they do it. But what if they instead worked together in their natural habitat – driving innovation and changing the world?

Finding the right partner to help drive innovation can be tricky. And that’s where Tata Consultancy Services’ Co-Innovation Network (TCS COIN) and its “Ecosystem Safari” comes in.

Disruptors are everywhere

In the world of Business 4.0, digital technologies are disrupting whole industries, from music and movies to travel and hotels. Traditional models are becoming irrelevant and boundaries between industries are dissolving.

Take financial services. Many banks have set up accelerator programmes to bring about change in their business. But a general invitation to digital technology start-ups can result in hundreds of applications. How to choose the right ones?

Most organizations don’t have either the in-house expertise or even enough people to evaluate all the potential partners. This was one of the drivers that led to the creation of TCS COIN in Silicon Valley over a decade ago.

The idea was to bring start-ups, venture capitalists (VCs) and academics from some of the world’s leading universities together with TCS’ Research and Innovation unit in an environment that would support Fortune 1000 clients on their digital transformation journeys.

TCS calls the process of helping a client select the right partner an Ecosystem Safari because it involves research across multiple business areas to bring the most relevant parties to the table, whatever the industry or location.

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A growing network

TCS COIN quickly demonstrated both the scale of the problem and the value of bringing in so much expertise to help solve it. Today, from a field of, say, 1,200 start-ups with the right qualities, TCS COIN can swiftly shortlist around 20. From these, typically two go forward to work with the client company.

“It’s a form of crowdsourcing,” says Tommi Makinen, TCS’ Innovation Lead Europe. “Through us, start-ups can get distribution across the world. Big companies benefit from the innovation, and the start-ups can say they work with leading firms and meet VCs who know how to scale up businesses. It’s a true win-win.”

The network now includes more than 2,500 start-ups from the United States, Israel, Canada, Europe, and India, and 50 universities including prestigious institutions like Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon and Stanford. New businesses are being added all the time.

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The global network team focuses on identifying the next trends in areas such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, cognitive computing, and cybersecurity.

VCs are seen as key players in the network because of their role as the promoters of the next generation of technologies. In return, TCS provides technical due diligence on the start-ups involved.

TCS doesn’t take an equity stake in the start-ups it works with. The exposure they gain from being part of TCS COIN and the access to VCs means they can scale up rapidly. Meanwhile, the academic side of the network focuses on research, bringing about new ideas.

Faster innovation

Recently, TCS helped a large Nordic bank that wanted to source the best start-ups in Israel. Within two days, 14 start-ups that matched its needs had been lined up.

Even whole projects can be accomplished at speed. A recent assignment to build a mobile banking process took just 10 weeks from start to finish – six to identify the right companies to work with and another four to integrate them into a cohesive, end-to-end offering.

Another benefit of the ecosystem has been the trust it has built up between participants, which has led to the sharing of highly valuable business insights. VCs have proved willing to spend time with individual companies, sharing their thoughts about where they will be placing their next bets as well as acting as matchmakers to help clients raise capital.

Turning insights into deliverable products and services is at the heart of the TCS COIN proposition. TCS organizes innovation days for clients at which start-ups pitch proofs of concept based on the company’s detailed requirements.

Now the idea has been taken to a wider audience through the global Slush series of events. Of the 2,000 start-ups attending each conference, TCS invites five or six to make a private pitch to their clients during the event.

“We are acting as brokers, bringing people and ideas together to drive innovation in a disruptive digital world,” says TCS’ Makinen. “It’s just great to see what we can achieve through collaboration. That is what the Co-Innovation Network is all about.”