Partnering with big business: Yes, ‘non-entrepreneurs’ can do it too

(Photo credit: @kirstinestewart/Twitter)

To be successful, you can’t do it on your own. You have to build partnerships with people and other businesses. “To forge successful partnerships, it’s critical that entrepreneurs understand what challenges their partner is facing and how their partner measures success,” says Arlene Dickinson. “Ultimately, partnering with big business is about figuring out the win-win.”

Someone who knows exactly what big businesses are looking for is Diply’s chief strategy officer Kirstine Stewart. With some big-ticket experience under her belt — she’s been the head of Twitter Canada and executive vice-president of CBC — Kirstine brings fresh insight to the Venturing Out podcast, so Arlene asks her: What do businesses actually want out of partnerships with fresh entrepreneurs?

I am a self-admitted non-entrepreneur because I’m not brave enough to do some of the things that entrepreneurs do out there.

Here are five lessons we learned from Arlene’s chat with Kirstine.

1. Not everyone can be an entrepreneur

Even after all her experience in helping build up businesses, Kirstine doesn’t see herself as an entrepreneur. “I am a self-admitted non-entrepreneur because I’m not brave enough to do some of the things that entrepreneurs do out there,” says Kirstine. “I don't think everyone can be an entrepreneur. You do need a certain courage [and] a certain self-awareness to recognize you can go out on your own.”

2. How non-entrepreneurs can take advantage of their entrepreneurial spirit

If you have an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit but still don’t identify as an entrepreneur, you have that in common with Kirstine. “I’ve built companies, but I’ve always been a part of those companies.” Arlene calls this “intrapreneurship.”

“I think some of the biggest wins I’ve had are when I’ve stepped out of that box and really challenged those around me to think a bit differently,” says Kirstine. “You’re really capturing the skillset and the spirit of those people and pointing them in the right direction.”

3. Look for the win-win

How should entrepreneurs approach partnerships with big businesses? Kirstine suggests preparing before the pitch by doing extensive research on the business — it’s an important step that isn’t done enough. “I think understanding where I’m coming from, understanding where my business needs to go and how you’re going to help in that in terms of partnership is incredibly important,” says Kirstine. “Even if what you’re presenting is something I’ve never heard of. You know my business well enough that you are convinced it’s going to take me to that next level.”

4. How to approach private-public partnerships

Having worked in both private companies and government corporations, Kirstine believes there are great opportunities for private-public partnerships, but entrepreneurs needs to understand what each partner’s role is. “If you depend too much on government agencies or funding to move things along, then you really are tying yourself to a process that’s not your own,” says Kirstine. “If that’s the basis of your business it’s not going to go very far… scalability isn’t really possible.”

5. Confidence and courage are key

Whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, these two characteristics will help you get ahead in business and in life. “We have enough inner criticism in our own heads, I believe, to actually listen too much to those external critics,” says Kirstine. “My own courage has come from believing in those around me who believed in me.”

Venturing Out is a weekly podcast series hosted by Arlene Dickinson and presented by CBC Calgary. Each episode delves into a behind-the-scenes look at the survival stories of Canadian business leaders as they took risks, experienced failure and continued to think big as they navigated their way through the Canadian business marketplace to success. New episodes will be available every Tuesday starting July 18 to Aug. 29, 2017. Subscribe to Venturing Out on your favourite podcast app, or listen on the free CBC Radio app for iOS and Android, or at