A partnership that works – making strategic shifts that work to your strengths

Business partnerships are only as perfect as the people who are involved in them, and that is not anywhere near guaranteed. What is 100% guaranteed is this: business partnerships can bring steady growth and strategic shifts if there is a solid foundation of trust.

This topic of partnerships was explored as part of the Strategic planning conversation that took place at the third and final instalment of the UK-South Africa Tech Hub Launch League Hub Leaders Forum.

The Launch League Hub Leaders Forum is a short programme established by the UK-South Africa Tech Hub and Viridian to bring together CEO’s of key South African entrepreneurship and skills hubs to have open and honest conversations about their successes and challenges for achieving sustainability.

Catherine Young, founder of Thinkroom and managing partner at Grindstone Accelerator and Grindstone Ventures, knows that solidifying trust is much easier said than done. At the forum, Catherine spoke about the importance of building partnerships that will last, and emphasised that although money is not a driving force, it is important that businesses get paid for the value they add.

“There’s no shame in making money in a very honest and upright way, and there’s no shame in being wealthy if you do that,” Catherine said.

So, how do we plan strategically for this? Or rather, how do we choose partnerships that will help us to grow and expand?

According to Catherine, entrepreneurship and skills hubs need strong partnerships, and the process of choosing the right partnerships involves introspection. When it came to her partnership experience with Thinkroom and Grindstone, Catherine said, “It worked because of the honest intention of both partners to want to make it work, and understanding the different skills needed, and who could contribute what.”

Knowing how to choose the right people for your team involves passing partners who showcase the following: evaluating work ethic, transparency and openness, and absolute respect and level of equality, mutual respect, and the agency to speak freely.

Here are her top nuggets for establishing sustainability:

  • Strategy

Focus on your why, what (the vision) and how (the mission).

“Do you have the discipline to relook at a strategy at a timing that works for your business, and do you as a team and as a broader partnership take that seriously?” Catherine asks. She follows it up with another important question – do you stick to it?

Assessing your organisation using the SWOT method may be intimidating at first, but it keeps the business on track and fosters transparency.

  • People and culture

How the business runs is deeply impacted by its people and culture. Catherine asked, “Who is the one person in your team that is not bringing the same amount of energy as others in order to get things done?”

Asking the hard questions is also part of building a culture of accountability.

“Your business is as good as the first ten employees or people that work in it,” Catherine said. “Us as leaders set the culture for the organisation and if we see that culture is going in a way that will not deliver on our long-term objectives and strategy and sustainability, we should address it.”

Catherine counts having the heart and head of a team member being in equilibrium as part of her business values.

“As the business grows, and the strategy evolves, the people who were there are not necessarily those who need to be there anymore. I mean that for myself too – I want to work myself out of this job,” Catherine said.

  • Finance and valuation

Sharing resources means pooling skills to cover each other’s gaps. Catherine advised that to solve the issue of resources, leaders must be willing to find, make (get startup ready), grow (equip) and realise. They should further look at their finances to assess if they are intact, and whether they are earning money.

“Do you have a grip on your finances, and do you know the valuation of your hub?” She encourages leaders not to undersell their businesses. 

When it comes to funding, how do we get to sustainability?

  1. Make sure you deliver good results so that you can shout about it. Have the results on file.
  2. Make sure you know what is happening with your competitors.
  3. Find ways of delivering in the shortest way possible. This will help you to save money, so that you can start weaning yourself off of reliance on donor money.
  4. Technology is the differentiator for hubs. “We’ve taken the approach that whatever we repeat constantly, we should automate,” Catherine said. “It saves time and directs resources to other needs, which in turn reduces overheads.”
  5. Sustainability is important – generating revenue streams goes a long way towards doing this.

“We have a lot of work to do to show the world that impact does not mean poverty or no profit,” Catherine said, on the point of whether or not NPOs can become commercially viable. She said NPOs can achieve this by understanding that they are not confined to one container.

A special thank you to Catherine Young for sharing her valuable insights with the hub leaders.

To read more about the first and second instalments of the Hub Leaders Forum, read the following articles:
1. Income for Impact: Building a Sustainable Hub
2.Strategic Marketing for Impactful Communication – Hub Leaders Forum