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Gorillas Can Dance

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Gorillas Can Dance

Lessons from Microsoft and Other Corporations on Partnering with Startups


15 min read
8 take-aways
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What's inside?

Lumbering giants can get nimble by partnering with start-ups.

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The COVID pandemic solidified the global rise of two dramatically different types of businesses. One is the giant tech firm that has succeeded, but is left vulnerable by its success. The other is the scrappy start-up hoping to supplant the giant. In this guide, professor Shameen Prashantham poses a way for both to prosper, together. He details how giants can partner with – and learn from – upstarts.


Among tech giants, Microsoft actively wooed start-ups.

In the late 1990s, as the dot-com industry took off, Microsoft focused elsewhere. The company was late to embrace the internet, and a federal antitrust lawsuit created a distraction. Microsoft also was pushing back against the growing open-source movement. By the 2000s, however, Microsoft’s culture shifted as its mind-set evolved. The tech giant began envisioning itself as an enterprise software company, releasing .NET in 2002. And in 2008, Microsoft began actively wooing start-ups. Its BizSpark initiative provided free software and support to start-ups, a cadre of companies it defined as new ventures that had launched within the past three years and had annual revenues of less than $1 million.

Microsoft demonstrated that a lumbering, gorilla-like organization can be quite nimble. BizSpark proved a quick success. Within a year, the program recruited 15,000 small companies. That number kept growing, hitting 85,000 start-ups five years after the BizSpark launch. BizSpark enabled Microsoft to combat the open-source movement. If tech start-ups were using Microsoft’s software for free in their early...

About the Author

Shameen Prashantham is professor of international business and strategy and associate dean at China Europe International Business School in Shanghai. He has written several other books including The Internationalization of Small Firms: A Strategic Entrepreneurship Perspective.

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