If you’re an established company, how can you partner with startups to drive innovation? And if you’re an innovative startup, how do you identify established companies to partner with? Those are some of the burning questions in the innovation community.

If you’re an established company, you’ve simply got to pay attention to startups. In the market, there’s a big disruption to how enterprises do business, how they operate, and how they execute their marketing strategies.

“It’s a consumer revolution, so we have to think what’s next,” says Martin Aubut, the Chief Digital Officer of L’Oréal Canada. “What’s next is services, it’s how we bring the best experience across channels, it’s data…”

Startups, Aubut explains, can help established firms move faster towards a world the enterprise can imagine, but is not always equipped to bring to life on its own. Alone, an enterprise might be able to get somewhere, but it will take much longer due to the bureaucratic nature of most large organizations. An enterprise + startup partnership can go faster because of the energy, passion, and entrepreneurship that the startup brings to the equation. Aubut cites the L’Oréal buzzword of métier (loosely translated to professional competency), and says that startups have certain things within their métier that enterprises just do not. In many ways, these partnerships can help enterprises become faster, leaner, and more agile.

I met Martin Aubut alongside Marie Chevrier, founder and CEO of Sampler, as they co-presented at the Path to Purchase Summit in Chicago. Sampler, a company devoted to changing how brands distribute samples, has partnered with a number of big companies over time as it has gained traction in the marketplace. On that front, Chevrier is the person to talk to about which established companies are best for startups to partner with.

“What we’re seeing is that…there needs to be a mindset of innovation,” says Chevrier. “There needs to be a mindset of wanting change and realizing that change is coming whether or not they participate or not.” To that end, Sampler is always looking out for executives who are open minded about new ways of doing business.

More than just lip service

Of course, some companies may simply say that they are dedicated to innovation because it feels like the right thing to do, but then when push comes to shove, aren’t as devoted to driving innovation. Chevrier feels L’Oréal was an ideal partner because their innovation mission became a company-wide mission. The company has been crystal clear from top to bottom that they would be innovating with startups. They even enlisted the company’s rank and file to vote on which startups should be selected for partnerships.

Where Chevrier sees it go wrong for some innovation partnerships is in the friction points between an executive deciding that the organization needs to try something, and the actual execution of that something. Some of the departments you have to deal with in between, like procurement, may be blockers. These blockers are missing the point, according to Aubut, who believes that entrepreneurship is at the core of evolution. An organization evolves in one of two ways. Either people change at the point where they start to feel the pain acutely; or, some organizations evolve to the point where change becomes part of their DNA. Aubut thinks L’Oréal is the latter type of organization, an organization that didn’t wait to create a technology stack and foundation to deploy innovation across the institution. “We’re more than open. We want to create the future with those organizations now.”

Finding the right partners

Aubut may look like a company man, but he wasn’t always the guy you’d find in an established business.  He was an entrepreneur himself when he met the CEO of L’Oréal Canada at the time who told time that the company wanted to own digital beauty, he immediately understood that the company was looking to be bold. When they start to move, they move. Aubut appreciated that the company had entrepreneurial values, with very clear goals and focus about where they wanted to go. And, an openness to take a calculated risk on hiring outside the beauty community: “I’m not a cosmetician,” Aubut jokes.

To Aubut, there are a few traits that make a startup a good partner. First, the startup must first have the attitude of solving problems and being solution-oriented. The founder and their team must have the right attitude to make sure that the entire organization understands that everyone has to work together to make something exceptional. Furthermore, the organization cannot be scared of trying new things and being agile and able to adapt to the organizations they’re partnering with. That seems to describe Sampler to a T, as it has added different product lines to solve problems better.

If you enjoyed this piece, you might enjoy listening to my whole interview with Chevrier and Aubut on my podcast, FUTUREPROOF. It’s all about innovation and the innovators creating the future we’ll all soon be living in. If you enjoy, subscribe on iTunesStitcher, or wherever you get your pods.