SOURCE: FORBES

Entre­pre­neurs and star­tups around the world flock to Austin, Texas, each March for South by South­west Inter­ac­tive, a con­fer­ence that feels like a five-day inno­va­tion and busi­ness-focused TED Talk mixed with non­stop net­work­ing, bar­beque, and tacos.

I’ve heard many SXSW atten­dees say how much they’d love to move here—and in fact, Austin is a hotbed of new busi­ness­es, ranked #2 in the US in start­up growth activ­i­ty by the Kauff­man Foun­da­tion. But entre­pre­neurs have unprece­dent­ed free­dom to launch new busi­ness­es with­out geo­graph­ic restraints, point­ed out JD Wein­stein, an Austin-based exec­u­tive from Oracle’s Glob­al Start­up Ecosys­tem, dur­ing a pan­el dis­cus­sion at SXSW.

Regard­less of loca­tion, one of the most cru­cial steps for many new busi­ness­es is form­ing the right part­ner­ship with an estab­lished enter­prise. Wein­stein and his fel­low pre­sen­ters offered four bits of advice for start­up lead­ers on how to how to iden­ti­fy the right poten­tial part­ners, grow those mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial rela­tion­ships, and build a healthy com­pa­ny.

1. Focus on Relationships

Oracle’s Wein­stein sug­gests a num­ber of paths that start­up lead­ers might take to estab­lish a rela­tion­ship with an enter­prise.

You might look for an entre­pre­neur who sold his com­pa­ny into a big com­pa­ny like Ora­cle,” he said. “They know what it’s like to be a start­up, what it’s like to work with that big com­pa­ny, and who the key play­ers are there.”

Anoth­er inroad: Estab­lish rela­tion­ships with com­pa­nies already doing busi­ness with the enter­prise or ven­ture firm you’re tar­get­ing.

But once a start­up gets “in” with a larg­er com­pa­ny, its lead­ers need to avoid one com­mon mis­take.

Don’t stick with just one rela­tion­ship for one pur­pose, because peo­ple do leave and all of a sud­den, your con­tact is in charge of data­bas­es in Afghanistan and they can’t help you,” Karen Kil­roy, founder and CEO of Kil­roy Blockchain, which works with com­pa­nies around the world to devel­op arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and blockchain solu­tions.

2. Align Goals

Anoth­er key to both iden­ti­fy­ing and grow­ing a start­up-enter­prise rela­tion­ship is mak­ing it a win-win.

For exam­ple, Oracle’s start­up pro­gram focus­es on offer­ing young com­pa­nies the ben­e­fit of two of the company’s key strengths: enter­prise sales exper­tise and tech­nol­o­gy.

Star­tups need access to real­ly big enter­prise cus­tomers, as well as train­ing on how to sell into an enter­prise,” Wein­stein said. “We train the star­tups in our pro­gram on how enter­pris­es are struc­tured and even pair them up with Ora­cle sales reps that cov­er a ter­ri­to­ry or a prod­uct that is com­ple­men­tary to that startup’s offer­ing, so they can sell togeth­er.”

And while many accel­er­a­tors focus on fundrais­ing, staffing, and mar­ket­ing, “Ora­cle helps star­tups build out the tech­nol­o­gy they need to run and scale their busi­ness,” he explained. “As a cloud com­pa­ny, it’s a big oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to help these com­pa­nies run their busi­ness­es bet­ter and grow quick­ly and scale effec­tive­ly.”

On the flip side, star­tups can offer enter­pris­es a lev­el of speed and agili­ty that larg­er orga­ni­za­tions can’t muster—which is par­tic­u­lar­ly advan­ta­geous if the small­er firm can address a spe­cif­ic chal­lenge the enter­prise is fac­ing, Wein­stein said.

To get that insight, start­up lead­ers should focus on under­stand­ing the larg­er company’s agen­da and how you can help them, advised pan­elist Sara Chap­man, direc­tor of entre­pre­neur­ship strat­e­gy and part­ner­ships at Dell Tech­nolo­gies.

Send reg­u­lar updates to your con­tacts and work to build your net­work with­in the com­pa­ny,” Chap­man advised. “See what the enter­prise is focused on and look for ways to part­ner.”

One unique part­ner­ship for Dell is ground­ed in its focus on social impact. The com­pa­ny teamed up with actress and entre­pre­neur Nik­ki Reed to make a jew­el­ry line out of the gold recov­ered from Dell moth­er­boards, adding a new facet to its elec­tron­ic recy­cling pro­gram.

Align Goals

3. Be Open

While focus is vital for entre­pre­neurs, so is the abil­i­ty to be open—in terms of how you net­work and part­ner as well as being able to shift gears when nec­es­sary.

Sab­ri­na Wojtewicz, co-founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of Bunker Labs, a non­prof­it focused on help­ing mil­i­tary vet­er­ans mil­i­tary spous­es suc­ceed as entre­pre­neurs, empha­sized the impor­tance of hav­ing an atti­tude of ser­vice.

You should always be net­work­ing, but when you meet peo­ple, you should gen­uine­ly ask, ‘What are your goals? How can I help you?’” she said. “The more help­ful you are, the more help will come to you.”

Anoth­er key to build­ing a sol­id net­work: look for inter­ests you have in com­mon with those you meet. It’s about broad­en­ing your net­work through real, per­son­al connections—and when­ev­er pos­si­ble, help­ing oth­ers achieve their goals, Wojtewicz said. Those rela­tion­ships will often lead to oth­er intro­duc­tions.

While con­fer­ences like SXSW are a great oppor­tu­ni­ty to put those habits into prac­tice, they’re also one of the places where start­up lead­ers should do a real­i­ty check.

Keep your eyes out for what the big­ger com­pa­nies are doing, but also watch for when those com­pa­nies start pulling out because it doesn’t work,” Kil­roy advised. “That’s a red flag that if they’re not able to sell a par­tic­u­lar tech­nol­o­gy, you’re not going to be able to sell it either, most like­ly.”

4. Keep Eyes on the Bottom Line

Oracle’s Wein­stein con­tends that cus­tomer rev­enue trumps invest­ment dol­lars because it doesn’t involve giv­ing up part of the com­pa­ny.

Sales is also the num­ber-one thing that investors look for,” he said. “You should val­ue grow­ing your com­pa­ny.”

That’s how Kil­roy Blockchain did it.

We’re a scrap­py, self-fund­ed start­up; every pen­ny we get comes from cus­tomers,” said that company’s founder. “What entre­pre­neurs need more than any­thing is a way to get cus­tomers. That has been our ulti­mate goal in devel­op­ing our rela­tion­ships.”

As a small com­pa­ny, she con­tin­ued, Kil­roy has the advan­tage of being able to get things done quick­ly. “But that’s dri­ven by the fact that I’ve got eight fam­i­lies that won’t eat if I don’t bring in mon­ey,” she said. “It’s a dif­fer­ent real­i­ty.”