Startup partnerships at MIT Sloan event rev sales channels

Early-stage companies featured at MIT Sloan's annual CIO event tap partners to speed up technology deployment and broaden their offerings and distribution channels.

Startups participating in MIT Sloan's annual CIO event are forging alliances with IT service providers and technology vendors to reach enterprise buyers.

Such channel initiatives were once more characteristic of long-established companies looking to augment their direct sales forces. But startup partnerships have become increasingly common in the last decade. Emerging technology companies enlist channel partners to get the word out on their products and provide implementation services.

Some of the early-stage companies selected as finalists for the 2024 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium's Innovation Showcase continue that pattern. In particular, data startups presenting at the event collaborate with partners to accelerate technology deployment, provide a broader set of offerings and broaden product distribution. The symposium, which runs May 13-14 in Cambridge, Mass., features 10 startups that market to enterprise customers.

Speeding up project delivery

The Modern Data Company, a Palo Alto, Calif., startup that offers a platform for creating data products, cultivates partnerships with consultancies to speed up customer projects. For example, the Innovation Showcase participant collaborated with ThoughtWorks, a technology consultancy based in Chicago, to build an "accelerator" for data mesh adoption. Data mesh, a concept that originated at ThoughtWorks, is a distributed data management approach for analytics and data science.

Deploying a data mesh can take two to three years, and just the technology-readiness stage of a project spans about 32 weeks, according to Saurabh Gupta, chief strategy and revenue officer at Modern. He joined the company earlier this year from ThoughtWorks, where he worked on data mesh engagements.

The accelerator, which serves as a template, lets customers deploy an out-of-the-box core data management framework. Gupta said the accelerator shrinks the 32-week readiness cycle to six to eight weeks.

"The customers' and developers' time is getting more invested toward deploying use cases, training users and delivering insights [rather than] building the core pieces of the technology," he said.

"There is a large bespoke-platform-building fatigue in enterprises," added Srujan Akula, co-founder and CEO at Modern. "They don't want to invest millions of dollars and then wait for the result. Most organizations want quick results versus waiting two years for a massive platform to be built out."

Consulting firms benefit from accelerators at a time when clients want them to deliver projects -- and their business value -- on a tighter schedule, Gupta noted. Indeed, top-tier executives have become dissatisfied with lengthy digital transformation schedules.

Partners, meanwhile, help Modern offer a wider array of services to customers, he said.

"Whenever we talk to enterprises, there are obviously needs around application development, DevOps and integration," Gupta said. "That goes beyond us. That's where we love to bring our partners along."

Saving time through automation

As with Modern, Cleanlab finds it can help consultancies save time on projects. The San Francisco company specializes in data quality and data curation for AI and machine learning (ML) uses.

Data and technology consulting is one of a half-dozen industries it pursues. Cleanlab works with companies including Berkeley Research Group, a consulting firm based in Emeryville, Calif., that uses the company's technology to improve its ML and AI models, Cleanlab CTO Anish Athalye noted.

"It's a great fit because these companies are working on a number of problems in this ML/AI space," Athalye said. "They have many opportunities, and they'd like to take on more projects, but they have limited time."

Cleanlab's tools automate data quality and curation tasks, which Athalye said often take up 80% of an AI project. The time savings increases the number of projects consultants can pursue, he added.

The Innovation Showcase company's sell-to strategy also includes a sell-through dimension. Consultants use the company's technology when working with clients, but they also deploy Cleanlab's tools in those environments.

Athalye cited technology vendors as another partnering tier. Cleanlab integrates its technology into data platforms such as Databricks. Such alliances can also provide a source of investment. Databricks in 2023 contributed to Cleanlab's $25 million Series A funding round.

Embedding technology to boost distribution

Pyte, a Los Angeles startup that focuses on secure data collaboration among companies, is also building a partnering initiative that encompasses technology vendors and consulting firms.

[Partnering] simplifies our sales motion and acts as a distribution channel for us.
Sadegh RiaziCo-founder and CEO, Pyte

Sadegh Riazi, co-founder and CEO of Pyte, said the company is building a relationship with a marketing platform provider, which will embed Pyte's encryption software within its products. Riazi declined to identify the Fortune 200 company, as the deal has yet to be finalized.

"That's one of the paths that we're taking," Riazi said of the pending embedded-technology agreement. "It simplifies our sales motion and acts as a distribution channel for us."

Riazi noted that working with larger partners can involve high risk as well as high reward. "It takes a lot of effort, and [there's] a lot of uncertainty."

Pyte also seeks relationships with systems integrators and consultancies. The partnering scope includes IT service generalists as well as boutique firms that specialize in areas such as cybersecurity and data collaboration, Riazi said.

John Moore is a writer for TechTarget Editorial covering the CIO role, economic trends and the IT services industry.

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