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What should startup founders know before negotiating with corporate VCs?

Choosing a sophisticated CVC who is in the game for the right reasons and has every incentive to see your company win is the most effective way to ensure that the deal gets done on terms that are right for your company.
Scott Orn Contributor Scott runs operations at Kruze Consulting, a fast-growing startup CFO consulting firm. Kruze is based in San Francisco with clients in the Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York. Bill Growney Contributor Bill Growney, a partner in Goodwin’s Technology & Life Sciences group, focuses his practice on advising technology and other startup companies through their full corporate life-cycle.

Corporate venture capitalists (CVCs) are booming in the startup space as large companies look to take advantage of the fast-paced innovation and original thinking that entrepreneurs offer.

For startups, taking funding from CVCs can come with many benefits, including new opportunities for marketing, partnerships and sales channels. Still, no founder should consider a corporate investor “just another VC.” CVCs come with their own set of priorities, strategic objectives and rules.

When it comes to choosing a CVC with which to enter negotiations, the most important step is doing your own diligence beforehand. An entrepreneur’s goal is to find the perfect match to partner with and guide you as you grow your business. So before you start discussing terms, you’ll want to understand what’s driving the CVC’s interest in venture investing.

While traditional VCs are purely financially driven, CVCs can be in the venture game for a variety of reasons, including finding new technology that might generate marketplace demand for their products. An example is Amazon’s Alexa fund, which invested into emerging companies that drive use and adoption of Alexa. Alternatively, a CVC’s parent company may be looking to invest in tech that will help them operate their own products more efficiently, such as Comcast Ventures investing in DocuSign.

As a rule of thumb, the bigger CVC funds like GV and Comcast tend to be financially driven, meaning they’ll be approaching negotiations through a financial lens. As such, the negotiating process more closely resembles an institutional fund. You as a founder have to do the work to figure out what’s driving your CVC — is this a customer acquisition or distribution opportunity? Or are they seeking to find a source of knowledge transfer and/or bring new tech into their parent company?

“Before negotiating, always look at a CVC’s existing portfolio,” says Rick Prostko, managing director at Comcast Ventures. “Have they made a lot of investments, at what stage, and with whom? From this information you’ll see the strategic thinking of the CVC, and you can determine how best to position yourself when you begin negotiations.”

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