Research the Unknown: How to Gather Intelligence on Your Industry’s Next Start-Up
In too many ways to count, the 21stcentury business world is vastly different than it was just a few decades ago. Even standard practices of industry from the early-2000s have devolved into irrelevancy as increasingly sophisticated technologies have brought new innovations, efficiencies and—to use a loaded word—disruption.
It’s that word—disruption—that has created a huge blind spot in competitive intelligence for many legacy organizations. Over the past decade, nearly every industry has seen the rise of new organizations unbound by years of standard operating procedures. These often-tech-based start-ups have completely changed the competitive landscape, while altering consumer expectations and increasing their demands. Far too often, legacy organizations have failed to recognize the impact these start-ups will have on an industry, leading to an ongoing game of catch-up to meet consumer demands.
And while they undoubtedly make positive impacts—especially in communities where new start-up ecosystems have been a catalyst for urban revitalization —their fast-moving nature can catch industry mainstays off guard. That’s why it’s vital for any competitive intelligence plan to have specific processes in place for searching for and identifying potential start-up competition as early as possible.
Because start-ups are primarily new brands and most likely privately held, it can be difficult to gather meaningful competitive intelligence data. With a little creativity and the right tools, however, there are ways to build an actionable profile on these potential disruptors. Here’s what we mean.
IDENTIFY AND TRACK START-UP INCUBATORS AND ACCELERATORS
Many start-ups begin to build serious traction by taking part in programs offered by specialized accelerators or incubators. These programs are meant to foster the growth of start-ups and receive support from a variety of sources: venture capital firms, local governments, philanthropic organizations and sometimes larger companies seeking innovation partners. While incubators and accelerators each have separate nuances defining them, they share the ultimate goal of helping entrepreneurs bring their start-ups to market successfully.
Spending time to identify these organizations allows you to stay attuned to relevant new start-ups the moment they begin to gain momentum. Tracking them involves monitoring media reports for announcements that incubators and accelerators have accepted new start-ups into their programs. From there, you can home in on tracking specific budding start-ups relevant to your industry.
INVEST TIME IN RESEARCHING INVESTORS
Private investors and venture capital firms stand atop the ecosystem building success for start-ups. It’s these individuals and organizations that provide the seed funding that allows start-ups to scale and grow rapidly. Because investors’ success is built upon the success of the start-ups they support, following their investments is a good barometer for potential success.
The journey to identify these investors has many paths, but a quick starting point can be analyzing the early funding secured by start-ups in your industry which have already found success. Like many research ventures, it’s a step-by-step approach.
- Use a company research tool like LexisNexis Dossier to search for currently known start-ups.
- Consult available investment analyst reports to identify equity holders.
- Run a second Dossier search on the identified equity holders—both individuals and firms.
- Consult and track the current and subsequent investments of these individuals or firms.
By taking these steps, you can keep tabs on potentially emerging competitors at the very early stages of their ascent.
MONITOR INDUSTRY-SPECIFIC NEWS COVERAGE
Start-ups often attract a greater level of news coverage than their longstanding industry counterparts. Thanks to the “shiny new thing” effect, and their potential to bring many changes to local and national economies, journalists rightfully place greater focus on these emerging organizations.
Searching for the word “start-up” while applying industry filters is a simple, yet adequate, tactic for monitoring and reviewing news coverage important to your organization’s competitive intelligence efforts. To bring more specificity to a search, additional filters can be applied. Within Nexis® , for example, subject-based filters like “company activities & management” and “trade & development” can be applied to narrow down results.
Start-ups are almost always scrappy, often achieving success by evolving quickly through a fail-fast, learn-fast, fix-fast approach. This constant state of change can make gathering competitive intelligence on them more difficult than with legacy organizations—but it’s no less important. Thankfully, leveraging the right approach and right tools can make the task manageable and keep your organization abreast of emerging competitors before it's too late.