SEP Corporate Startup Stars 2018 – The winners!

Samsung Electronics, KPN and Sodexo named as the corporates working most collaboratively with startups across Europe

For the third year running, European startups have been asked through a public call to nominate the most active corporates in terms of open-innovation. Samsung Electronics, KPN and Sodexo got the top three positions, according the new ranking unveiled today in Brussels at an official ceremony at the presence of European Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen.


The Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars ranking was produced by the open innovation advisory firm Mind the Bridge and innovation foundation Nesta under the European Commission’s Startup Europe Partnership initiative. In total 36 companies were awarded – 12 as SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars and 24 as SEP Europe’s Open Innovation Challengers.


Special awards have also been assigned for Corporate Accelerators, Startup Procurement, Investment, M&A plus Open Innovation Innovative Approaches, with three awards for each category.


This annual ranking is realised as a part of the European Commission’s Startup Europe Partnership initiative. This year, Jyrki Tapani Katainen, the European Commission Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness awarded the companies and provided his insights in a keynote speech. Members of the selection committee, including Bindi Karia, Candace Johnson and Isidro Laso Ballesteros, also attended the ceremony.


“Collaboration between established corporates and startups can bring tremendous benefits to both. Startups get the possibility access resources and market insight to help them scale up, whilst for established companies, such collaborations can be a strong driver of innovation – as well as bring subtler benefits like cultural change – commented European Vice-President Katainen – However, it is hard to get it right. We believe that the organizations doing this well should be recognized as trailblazers, and hope that they inspire others”.


The expectations and potential are significant for Open Innovation and corporate-startup collaboration. – added Alberto Onetti, Chairman Mind the Bridge, Coordinator Startup Europe Partnership (SEP), who moderated the Award Ceremony but a lack of real understanding of the term is a key barrier to adoption. That’s why we decided to recognize the companies that are active in this area. Showcasing concrete cases and results is worth a thousand buzzwords”.




Along with Samsung Electronics, KPN and Sodexo, companies awarded among the Top 12 SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars are: AB InBev, Barclays, Bosch, Centrica, Enel, Iberdrola, KBC Group, Mastercard and Vodafone.


An additional 24 companies have been awarded as “Open Innovation Challengers”: ABB, ACCIONA S.A., Amadeus IT Group, Amazon, Banco Sabadell, BBVA, Cisco, Dell, Deutsche Bahn AG, EDP, Ferrovial, Fiege Group, Google, LVMH, Nouryon, Qualcomm, Rabobank, RBS, Royal BAM Group, Salesforce, Santander, SAP, Sonae and Virgin.


AB InBev, Enel and Iberdrola received the “Corporate Startup Procurement Award”, while the “Corporate Startup Acquisition Award” went to BBVA, Centrica and HPE.


Deutsche Bahn, KBC Group and Virgin have been recognised with the “Corporate Startup Accelerator Award”; Bosch, Dell, Qualcomm with the “Corporate Startup Investment Award”, and ACCIONA, Amadeus IT Group and Sonae with the “Open Innovation Innovative Approach Award”.





Alongside the award ceremony, Mind the Bridge and Nesta have published new research titled “The Status of Open Innovation in Europe”. This report includes data from the top 36 companies that have been recognised as active in open innovation in Europe.


According to the research, European companies spend less on innovation than their competitors. In recent years there has been an increasing move towards open innovation, especially in high tech industries where collaboration with startups is key. However, despite a gradual upwards trend in innovation performance, further efforts are needed to ensure Europe’s global competitiveness., even


Key findings and lessons for corporates looking to work more collaboratively with startups:

  • The significant majority (88%) of the corporates surveyed have a dedicated open innovation unit, with direct report lines to the CEO, Chief Innovation Officer or Chief Digital Officer
  • Innovation Outposts’: Having a direct presence in the world’s tech hotspots is a recent and growing trend
  • Procurement: Funded proof-of-concept and co-development programmes continue to be widely used and confirm to be a productive way to engage with startups
  • Accelerators continue to be widely adopted, though as reported in Mind the Bridge and Nesta’s 2017 study, there are concerns about the financial sustainability (IRR) of programmes
  • Investments: As observed in the 2017 study, the trend continues of a gradual reduction of the use of CVC funds in favour of off-balance, strategically-driven investments
  • Acquisitions: The analysis again confirms that European corporations are mildly acquisitive, in comparison with US counterparts.


“Innovation is key to sustained corporate success, and collaboration between startups and corporates as a form of open innovation can bring tremendous value to both parties. However, it is difficult to get right. These awards showcase firms which have managed to bridge the differences in size and culture, working effectively with startups and scaleups for mutual benefit.” – commented Christopher Haley, Head of New Technology & Startup Research, Nesta. 


“POCs confirm to be the mainstream way used by leading corporations to initiate their engagement with startups. Procurement can trigger investments and acquisitions when strategic considerations come to play – ended Alberto Onetti – We are also witnessing some cases of corporates abandoning/downsizing their accelerator programmes. In parallel more and more European corporates are establishing a presence in Silicon Valley”.