Typically, a startup will apply to be a part of an accelerator, which is a program designed to provide resources, seed funding, advisors, mentorship, and a path to venture funding (barring a successful 'Demo Day'). However, a trend is surfacing, showing that startups aren't the only benefactors of accelerator programs -- and brands are taking notice.

Whether you're a small business or global enterprise, the fact of the matter is that there are always problems that need solving or new approaches to improve legacy process or technology. So, why not leverage a network of early-stage startups, with varying products or services, mentored by your executives, and groomed into exactly what you're looking for? Makes perfect sense, actually.

Request for Startup (RFS)

Move over, RFP's -- you've been replaced. Today, small and large companies have started aligning alongside venture capitalists (VCs) on a local, regional, and even global scale. For the startup, they have an opportunity to acquire a rock-solid partner as an early adopter, a potential case study, and strategic investor. For the business, they're filling a clear need while making a commitment to small businesses (which is always good PR). Here's how it's being done today.

500 Startups & Sberbank

Sberbank recently partnered with the early-stage seed accelerator 500 Startups with a collaborative goal to connect Russia's flourishing startup scene with local corporations. From 843 applicants, 30 startups made it through to the Sberbank Demo Day, 7 of which were selected to move forward to the 500 Startups' Silicon Valley Exchange. The next phase takes place in Silicon Valley, where the finalists will work to scale their vision and drive their innovative solutions to global markets.

Sberbank, who was named the world's second strongest brand in 2019, has 9 internal labs devoted to experimental projects & an internal accelerator for its employees, reinforcing the commitment to innovation. Their corporate accelerator, according to Sberbank, represents the hope for the long-term production of innovative technological solutions that can be merged with the bank's preexisting services, as well as promote an internal culture of innovation and diversification.

Rolls-Royce Data Labs

Rolls-Royce is another strong legacy brand that is looking to build innovation through partnering with emerging businesses, with plans to launch a startup accelerator in Bengaluru, India in April this year. Through the program, Rolls-Royce will offer mentoring and technical support to startups, in exchange hoping to cultivate and benefit from emerging solutions in AI, blockchain technology, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

Overall, this enables Rolls-Royce to work with industry partners to collectively co-create solutions that match the needs of customers.

Techstars and EPS

Technological advances come slowly to the maritime industry, in spite -- or maybe because -- of the fact that it's one of the world's oldest, most vital industries. Eastern Pacific Shipping (EPS), a leading ship management company, recognizes this and recently announcing a partnership with seed accelerator, Techstars. The goal of the collaboration is to launch a worldwide MaritimeTech startup accelerator based in Singapore.

Not only will the entire industry look to benefit, but EPS specifically, in garnering both the partnership of emerging innovators and the global awareness in the commitment to build more sustainable and efficient solutions.

Whether you're a budding startup or long-standing enterprise, these collaborations should serve as a creative reminder that innovation isn't confined to one domain, whether internal or external, and push you to 'go outside your comfort zone' to take advantage of it in all its forms.