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Joining Forces for Sustainability: Exploring Strategic Alliances between Corporates and Sustainable Startups

Published onJun 21, 2023
Joining Forces for Sustainability: Exploring Strategic Alliances between Corporates and Sustainable Startups
Tomas Santa-Maria1,*, Nicole Dougnac1
1Business Sustainability Center, Faculty of Economics and Business, Universidad del Desarrollo, Av. Plaza 680, Santiago, Chile
*[email protected]


Environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss have pushed sustainability high on the business agenda, requiring corporations to innovate towards sustainability. While corporates are ill-equipped for radical sustainability-oriented innovation, many sustainable startups are introducing novel environmentally sustainable technologies in the market, which face challenges in their validation and growth. Given their complementary resources, strategic alliances between corporates and sustainable startups offer great potential in the urgent sustainability transition, however, this topic has been understudied. This paper aims to empirically explore these types of collaborations by identifying the various drivers that motivate both corporates and sustainable startups to establish these strategic alliances, which ones are the major barriers and frictions encountered and what resources and capabilities each party bring into the collaborations, and as such, shedding light on the distinctive aspect of this type of strategic alliances. This research is founded on a multiple case study on eight collaboration cases based in Chile, namely sustainability-oriented cases of corporate venture capital and venture client involving a total of six startups and six corporates. Following a grounded theory approach, we describe 21 distinctive types of drivers, grouped into organizational, environmental, social, legal and economic drivers; we present 14 types of barriers, grouped into cultural, strategic, operational, financial and sustainability-related barriers; and we identify five types of resources each party brings to the alliance. This study contributes to the fields of corporate sustainability, sustainable entrepreneurship and strategic alliances, and has several practical implications.


Corporate sustainability, sustainable entrepreneurship, strategic alliances, open innovation, multiple case study

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