SAP, Telefonica and Virgin win as the corporates doing the most to support startups across Europe

Startup Europe Partnership’s CORPORATE STARTUP STARS 2017

  • SAP, Telefonica and Virgin have today been selected as Europe’s top three “startup-friendly” corporates in SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars ranking, announced at an event in Brussels.
  • Carlos Moedas, European Commissioner for research, science and innovation, attended the ceremony.
  • New research,“Open Innovation in Europe” from Mind the Bridge and Nesta is published, revealing a snapshot of the state of corporate startup collaboration
  • Startup Europe Partnership (SEP) 2.0 launches its 2018-2019 program, aiming to support European scaleups to further grow.

Brussels, December 18th, 2017 – Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars, run by open innovation advisory firm Mind the Bridge and innovation foundation Nesta, has today unveiled the list of the 36 corporates that are doing the most to collaborate with startups across the continent. The awards, the second that have taken place under the European Commission’s Startup Europe Partnership initiative, were presented at an event in Brussels.

“We need to maximize the potential of linking established corporations and start-ups across Europe, which is a clear win-win. The more that start-ups can access invaluable resources and market insight, the more established corporations can benefit from the exciting new innovations of our most talented innovators. It is this win-win scenario that we would like to achieve with the European Innovation Council, starting with the €2.7bn pilot phase that was launched just a few weeks ago that includes financial support for innovative SMEs and mentoring and coaching from experienced players” – commented European Commissioner Carlos Moedas.

12 companies have been awarded as “Corporate Startup Stars”, while a group of 24 have been recognized as “Open Innovation Challengers”. These 36 firms represent the best examples of open innovation in Europe.

“Open innovation is a must today for all established corporates either large and SMEs. However, it is hard to get it right – commented Alberto Onetti, Chairman Mind the Bridge, Coordinator Startup Europe Partnership (SEP), who moderated the Award Ceremony – We believe that the organizations doing this well should be recognized as trailblazers, and hope that they inspire others to follow suit. SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars is aimed at showcasing best practices and role models how the corporate-startup collaboration might benefit both sides.”

In 2016 Cisco was crowned as the corporate doing the most to support startups in Europe. This year SAP, followed by Telefonica and Virgin in second and third place respectively, were given the prestigious SEP award.

The Judging Committee* commented in particular on the holistic approach and global presence of SAP, along with the firm’s strong commitment to procurement and its active role as a M&A player. The judges also gave a special mention to the activity of Sapphire Ventures Capital Fund.

Telefonica was lauded as a great example of digital transformation, which is making significant efforts to integrate accelerated startups into the firm. The scale and vision of their OpenFuture programme is a sign that open innovation is at the core of Telefonica’s strategy.

Finally, Virgin was highlighted as a corporate able to ingrain entrepreneurship within its culture, as reflected in its corporate values and internal KPIs. All Virgin companies engage with startups via different programmes, often supported by Virgin StartUp – a dedicated entity focused on supporting small innovative businesses.


  • Beyond SAP, Telefonica and Virgin, the other companies awarded as SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars are: BBVA, Cisco, Enel, KPN, Mastercard, Mercedes-Benz (Daimler AG), Orange, Rabobank and Unilever Foundry.
  • In addition to these, a further 24 companies have been recognized as “Open Innovation Challengers”: AB InBev, Aviva, Barclays (Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars), BBC Worldwide, BMW, Eneco, Google (for entrepreneurs), Iberdrola,  Intesa Sanpaolo, KBC, KLM, Lloyd, Metro, Microsoft, Nestle’, Pfizer, Philips, RBS, Santander, Shell, Sodexo, Sonae, Unipol, VIVAT.
  • Barclays (Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars), Mastercard (Start Path) and Philips (Health Works) have been recognized with the “SEP Corporate Startup Accelerator Award”.
  • Enel, Iberdrola and Telefonica received the “SEP Corporate Startup Procurement Award”, while the “Corporate Startup Investment Award” goes to KBC, KPN and Santander.
  • BBVA, Orange and Telefonica have been awarded the “SEP Corporate Startup M&A Award”, Dell, Google for Entrepreneurs, Microsoft theSEP Support the Startup Ecosystem Award” and Aviva, Sodexo and VIVAT the “SEP Open Innovation Recent Fast Movers Award”.
  • Finally, the “SEP Open Innovation Innovative Approach Award” goes to BBVA (for the Venture Builder approach, and its spin-off Trust.u), Mercedes-Benz Vans (Daimler AG) (for the co-development approach) and Metro (for the METROpolitan program).


Alongside the Award Ceremony was the launch of a research report* entitledOpen Innovation in Europe: a Snapshot of 2017 SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars”. This report includes data from the top 36 European-based companies that have been recognised as active in open innovation in Europe in 2016.

Data reveals that 52% of the top European corporates run an accelerator, hosting an average of 19 startups each. A further 32% of the top European corporates participate in accelerators run by third parties, such as Startupbootcamp, Founders Factory, Plug & Play, Rockstart, Entrepreneurial Spark.

  • 87% undertook innovative procurement from startups or scaleups in 2016, commercially engaging with an average of 10 startups each.
  • 71% actively invested in startups/scaleups in 2016: 50% through a dedicate Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) fund; 27% investing off-balance and 23% both CVC and off-balance. On average, these corporates invested in 3.5 startups/scaleups in 2016
  • 61% are active in startup M&A and 37% undertook at least 1 M&A operation in 2016. On average, they acquired 1 corporate each in 2016 (2 if we also include non-European startups).
  • Finally, 84% have a dedicated Open Innovation Unit as of December 2016.

“Data shows that firms in Europe are finally finding mechanisms for meaningful and successful corporate-startup collaboration” – commented Chris Haley, Head of New Technology & Startup Research, Nesta – “We believe that the ability to collaborate across differences in size and culture is an increasingly important source of competitive advantage, and expect to see corporate-startup collaboration continue to gather pace in the years ahead.”

“We see incumbent shifting from acceleration-only activities towards broader commercial engagement” – added Alberto Onetti, Chairman Mind the Bridge, Coordinator Startup Europe Partnership (SEP) – “We also predict that companies aspiring to be at the forefront of innovation will dedicate a more generous budget to procuring from and co-developing with startups. Finally, we estimate that investment and acquisitions may increase as a result of commercial engagements and strategic considerations rather than being driven by financial returns.”


The SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars Award Ceremony also represents the official launch of Startup Europe Partnership (SEP) 2.0, an initiative established by the European Commission in January 2014 at the World Economic Forum in Davos. In January 2018 SEP will begin its second ambitious project with funding from the European Commission. Named SEP 2.0, the project aims to support European scaleups that are considering or dealing with an exit (either via a corporate partner or IPO). The new consortium is led by Mind the Bridge, a global organization based in Europe and United States, with the support of innovation foundation Nesta, Elite (London Stock Exchange Group), the European Startup Network, the Scaleup Institute, and Bisite Accelerator.

In 2018 four SEP Scaleup Summits will be organized: highly curated matching activities, hosted by the most prestigious European Stock Exchanges, where corporates and scaleups can do business and spot trends in technology innovation. The first one will be organized in Milan at Borsa Italiana. London and Budapest will follow.

The fourth edition of the SEC2SV entrepreneurial mission of Startup Europe to Silicon Valley is scheduled in September, while a similar initiative to Israel (SEC2IL) will happen in May.



Notes to editor

* Methodology of the Research

For the second year, European startups were asked through a public call by Nesta and Mind the Bridge to nominate the corporates which they found to be the most active in working with startups, as well as easier to work with. Nominated corporates were then invited to apply for the SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars Awards by providing detailed information and references regarding their open innovation organization, activities (such as one-off events, accelerators, procurement programmes, investment, acquisition, internal innovation) and results achieved. Corporates identified through secondary research were also invited. The applications were then analyzed and reviewed by Mind the Bridge and Nesta, with the ranking defined together with the SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars Awards Judging Committee.

Process of selection

Approximately 100 responses were received, including some companies that said they were too early-stage to apply. 50 complete applications were evaluated. A subset of (12 + 24) companies were identified for the final awards. The Special Awards do not provide a ranking, but are aimed at signaling companies, approaches and initiatives that deserve to be recognized, in the opinion of the judges.

Judging Committee

  • Sherry Coutu, Angel Investor and Author of the UK Scaleup Report
  • Andy McCartney, Former CEO-in-residence at Microsoft and Founding Partner at Whitespace Ventures
  • Bindi Karia, Member of the EU European Innovation Council and Former Vice President at Silicon Valley Bank
  • Candace Johnson, Serial Entrepreneur behind SES and Loral Cyberstar-Teleport Europe and President at EBAN
  • Alberto Onetti, Chairman Mind the Bridge and Coordinator of Startup Europe Partnership (SEP)
  • Constantijn Van Oranje-Nassau, Prince of the Netherlands, Special Envoy StartupDelta, and Co Founder & Chairman of Startup Fest Europe

About Startup Europe Partnership (SEP)

Established by the European Commission in January 2014 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, SEP is the first pan-European open innovation platform dedicated to transforming European startups into scaleups by linking them with global corporations and stock exchanges

SEP is led by Mind the Bridge, a global organization based in Europe and Silicon Valley, in partnership with innovation foundation Nesta, the European Investment Fund/ European Investment Bank Group, London Stock Exchange Group, EBAN, the European Startup Network, and The ScaleUp Institute.

By participating in the SEP program, global companies have access to the best technologies and companies with the goal of initiating business partnerships and venture corporate investments. Scaleups are exposed to qualified sales/strategic opportunities as well as funding options either via venture capital, private placements, or IPOs.

For more info: | @sep_eu

About Mind the Bridge

Mind the Bridge is a global organization that provides innovation advisory services for corporates and startups. With HQs in San Francisco (CA) and offices in London, Italy and Spain, Mind the Bridge has been working as an international bridge at the intersection between startups and corporates since 2007. Mind the Bridge scouts, filters and works with 1,500+ startups a year supporting global corporations in their innovation quest by driving open innovation initiatives that translate into curated deals with startups (namely POCs, licensing, investments, and/or acquisitions). Mind the Bridge publishes curated reports on the status of the scaleup ecosystems in different geographies, as well as M&A and innovation market trends in various verticals. Mind the Bridge has strong partnerships with entities such as the London Stock Exchange and the European Commission, for whom it runs the Startup Europe Partnership (SEP) open innovation platform. | @mindthebridge

About Nesta

Nesta is a global innovation foundation. It backs new ideas to tackle the big challenges of our time and improve how the world works for everyone. Nesta uses its knowledge, networks, funding and skills to take on these big challenges – working in partnership with others, including governments, businesses and charities. Nesta is a UK charity that works all over the world, supported by a financial endowment. To find out more visit / @nesta_uk