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Change is Inevitable, Growth is Optional: Advice for the Startup Community from Leading IT Executives


By Patrick Steele, CIO Advisory Chair, Blumberg Capital

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of moderating a virtual panel with some of the industry’s leading IT executives to discuss how today’s Fortune 500 CIOs are approaching the COVID-19 crisis. I was joined by Alan Boehme from Cloud Security Alliance, Suja Chandrasekaran from CommonSpirit Health and Tom Cullen from JUUL Labs.

Together we discussed their current challenges and focus amidst the current landscape, but most importantly, we gathered their advice for small business owners on how to best work with large corporations during this crisis and beyond.

I compiled some of the most important or actionable pieces of advice from each participant that entrepreneurs should have top of mind now and in the future:

Alan Boehme, Member Board of Directors, Cloud Security Alliance

When asked about the new business model for IT moving forward, Alan shared that the concept of social distancing will be around for an extended period of time and that new technologies, capabilities and business models will be developed to support this.

Corporations will be laser-focused on growth and in need of models that are predictive of the future, which is something that startups must have in mind when approaching new potential partners.

Because of this shift to new business models, the concept of partnering with startups will change altogether. Furthermore, he shared that there will be much more trial and error and short-term deals to see what works. Startups must be flexible in this way but also selective with who they choose to work with, as corporations can chew up resources quickly.

Suja Chandrasekaran, Senior EVP, Chief Information and Digital Officer, CommonSpirit Health

One of the most important things small businesses want to know is how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing interactions between corporations and the partners they work with.

When addressing this, Suja emphasized the importance of not just being a transactional vendor partner, but instead being a modern, strategic partner. She shared the core tenants that CommonSpirit Health uses to develop strategic partnerships: trust, transparency and joint innovation. The foundation for this kind of a relationship comes from having a mindset for how organizations can work together to co-create and co-problem solve.

In the context of COVID-19, partners must now demonstrate empathy for patients and step up to meet current demands and challenges that have arisen from the pandemic.

Tom Cullen, Chief Information Officer, JUUL Labs

During a time of chaos, it can be more difficult for startups to break through the noise and get the attention of decision-makers. Tom’s advice? Make your unique value proposition clear from the onset.

He shared that at JUUL, the focus has shifted from looking for technologies to deliver widescale innovation to honing in on technology that solves a specific, existing problem – whether it’s reducing risk in one area of the business or creating new opportunities in another.

With budget constraints increasing across the board, businesses are paying closer attention to how they can drive maximum value from both existing and new technologies. His message for startups came through loud and clear: have clarity on your purpose/value proposition and do your homework ahead of time to understand what problems the business you’re targeting is trying to solve and how, specifically, your solution will support those efforts.

Based on these insights and others shared during the webinar, the primary takeaway for small businesses is that change is inevitable, but growth is optional. Now is the time for entrepreneurs to take a close look at not only how their startup might need to pivot, but also how large corporations are adjusting and setting themselves up for future growth. The small businesses that recognize this and can offer a potential solution will be well-positioned for success.

Watch the webinar here.

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