CDILabs - An open innovation consortium

Faciliating collaboration between corporate companies and startups
Faciliating collaboration between corporate companies and startups

CDILabs is a corporate innovation consortium aimed at enabling commercial collaborations between innovative tech startups/scaleup and multinational corporations. Launched in Turin, Italy, in 2016 by the Collège des Ingénieurs (CDI) and three leading industrial groups in automotive, infrastructures and energy industry (Fiat-Chrysler Automobile, Atlantia Group and ERG), the consortium has now grown to include over 10 multinational corporate partners, active in industrial sectors ranging from mobility to aerospace, from logistics to manufacturing, from renewable energies to oil&gas. During the course of the past three years since launch, CDILabs enabled over 40 pilots corporate-to-startup and initiated 5 collaborations corporate-to-corporate; with startups coming from than 20 countries in Europe and Israel.

The consortium is structured as an open innovation platform based on a three-phased methodology. Each year, the process starts with the investigation of business and technological innovation needs and exchange of experiences among partners (Exploration phase), scouting of innovative solutions and technologies matching with corporate needs (Selection phase), with subsequent testing and validation on small-scale pilots (Pilot phase) before evaluating large-scale implementation.

Process Main Stages: 

Stage 1: Exploration

CDILabs methodology starts with identifying clear Innovation Needs for each of its corporate partners. These needs are defined together with the Partner Company through interviews with reference persons within the Partner Company. CDILabs then brings together and summarizes the needs emerged, and validate them against Top Management’s priorities, in order to identify the themes on which to focus innovation efforts. This paves the way for successful collaborations and grows an internal corporate culture favourable to innovation.

In parallel, the consortium acts as a catalyser for joint opportunities among CDILabs partner companies: each one gets to interact and talk to the other corporate partners at roundtables, thematic events, and ad-hoc meetings, facilitating networking and sharing of innovation experiences and practices.

Stage 2: Selection

Once priorities and needs are defined, CDILabs looks in the market for solutions potentially able to address needs expressed by the corporate. CDILabs’ scouting perimeter focuses on innovative companies (typically post-seed startups) at European level, which encompass Israel. The pre-screening takes into account multiple parameters, such as solution maturity, expected implementation costs, as well as scaling potential and potential for new business opportunities. Preselected startups are then invited to meet the corporate at a Matchmaking day, which is an annual CDILabs event where startups present their solutions and identify potential use cases for a cooperation. The format of the event mixes pitching sessions for inspiration with one-to-one private meetings for focused business discussions, and is invite-only.

Stage 3: Pilots

Following CDILabs Matchmaking Day, the corporate companies identify startups that are able to address its needs and start discussing a pilot collaboration - shaping a framework of collaboration from objectives to resources and operational activities. To fast-track innovation, the pilots projects typically lasts only three months to one year, on a specific geography with a precise objective and budget.

In most cases, the pilot is a direct startup-to-corporate suppliers relationship, though some projects may also require the involvement of suppliers, research centres or other third-party partners. Significant innovation opportunities can be found also in corporate-to-corporate pilots.

Upon completion of the pilot, the result of the collaboration is evaluated on various KPIs and the corporate takes the decision whether to scale the solution. Post-pilot next steps can be: further co-development, co-licensing, supplier relationship, as well as reasoned investments and acquisitions.

Touchpoints & Bottlenecks: 

TOUCHPOINT: Meetings between CDILabs and Partner Companies

Touchpoints of the process are meetings between CDILabs and Partner Companies, typically happening across the corporate organization, from C-level executives to BUs experts; meetings and calls between startups and corporates; an annual Matchmaking Day; roundtables between corporates; ad-hoc events for ecosystem building.

BOTTLENECK: Attaining Commitment

Main bottleneck is having a clear corporate commitment which is an enabler for a good relationship management with startups. It is essential that the corporate identifies clearly on its innovation needs, so that the scouting of solutions can be tailored for the overall organization priorities while matching what the operational level is looking for – and ready to work with. From the beginning it is also essential to identify for each Innovation Theme clear reference persons, who then act as project managers during pilots for ensuring they run smoothly and in schedule.

Success Factors / Barriers: 

SUCCESS FACTOR: Creation of an Innovation Culture

The main objective of the multinational companies taking part in CDILabs consortium is to create a favourable culture of innovation within their organization, enabling to bring to life new products, services and business models. The main objective of startups is to access new sales channels, validate their solutions with large clients and create long-term partnerships with actors critical for scale-up.

The main success factors are clearly defined objectives and a structured innovation process to manage the relationship between procedure-based established groups versus dynamic and challenging innovation suppliers such as startups.


Innovation in established businesses can be a long, time-consuming and resource-intensive process. By streamlining the access of corporates to new solutions developed by startups, offering to C-level executives insights on innovation trends tailored to their needs, an access to an international network of partners, and creating open communications channels allowing key discussions to take place, CDILabs contributes to reducing the risk of innovation and unlock new opportunities for its members.  An open innovation consortium such as CDILabs is a fast track for knowledge & best practices sharing, Innovation risk mitigation, internal culture growth and a multiplier of Innovation opportunities.

  • Identify corporate needs & priorities early on
  • Tailor the selection of innovative solutions to corporate needs
  • Create open communication channels between startups and corporates, facilitated by a neutral third party, to ensure both actors speak the same language
  • Clear up the pilot's objective, resources, reference persons and KPIs before the project starts
  • Do not restrict too much the field of research
  • Do not commit to investments/acquisitions without having previously tested/validated the solution proposed by the innovation actor through small-scale pilot(s)
  • As an innovation platform, remain neutral in the process, not pushing for a technical solution or another, but rather looking at the solution’s application and long-term usefulness