No one can dispute the massive impact the internet has had on the continuing growth of e-commerce and connecting buyers and sellers across country borders. But for start-up businesses wanting to cross borders with their products, services, or solutions, digital connectivity is not always enough.

For some years now, markets have stepped up with shipping, customs, and online store solutions designed to help sellers get their products across country borders and reach new markets. But what if you are a start-up with an idea, service, or solution that you want to test out in another country? How do you get things off the ground?

Posts Around the Globe Are Nurturing Innovation

In its 2016 study, “The New Delivery Reality,” Accenture reported that in 2013, venture capital funding in supply chain and logistics start-ups was $266 million, but in the first quarter of 2016, it jumped to $1.75 billion. This is just one statistic that brings clarity to just how much innovation and disruption is going on in our global postal-parcel-delivery-logistics ecosystem. As more innovative players and start-ups take interest in our ecosystem, posts and others with a huge interest in this space are noticing and reacting in positive ways.

In the past few years, a host of innovation incubators and services have cropped up within the industry, many offered by postal services or operators themselves as they see the value of encouraging innovation and helping startups succeed. These opportunities help open doors for start-ups both within their home country and in other countries.

SwissPost, renowned for its support of innovation, has its PostVentures program where it continually “seeks out fresh ideas to help drive forward its range of products and services in strategic business development areas.” It enters into partnerships with entrepreneurs and helps them implement interesting projects. As part of PostVenture17, participants receive support from Swiss Post experts and the ZHAW’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (CIE), as well as start-up funding for the development and validation of the most promising business ideas. Swiss Post also routinely offers “pitching days” where startups can present their business ideas to specialists.

Canada Post recognizes and encourages innovators through its eCommerce Innovation Awards, with specific competition categories such as “most disruptive start-up” and “small” categories for retailers and pure plays. Awards to winners include free shipping amounts with Canada Post as well as promotional activity packages to advertise and support winners’ business growth.

LaPoste runs “Start'inPost,” a start-up accelerator program to help connect start-ups and members of its group to accelerate commercialization of innovative services. In a two-step process, start-ups pilot their products/services with an operational sponsor in the LaPoste group for three months, then may receive a commercial partnership and follow-up by the Start’inPost team for another nine months, and, for the most promising, the group also invests capital.

Poste Italiane has long been collaborating with universities, the Public Administration, and private entities. In its relations with the world of academia in particular, the company pursues excellence by participating in national-level applied research and experimentation projects on specific themes.

These are just a few examples of how posts themselves are supporting innovation. There are also larger innovation programs within and across countries, which are not specific to our industry, such as the European Commission’s Innovation Union program — part of its Europe 2020 initiative — and seed accelerator groups such as Y Combinator in the US. And, of course, major carriers/delivery services such as UPS also have strategies around innovation. UPS has its Strategic Enterprise Fund (SEF) program, a private equity strategic investment arm of UPS which is a corporate venture capital group focusing on developing critical partnerships and acquiring knowledge returns from investments in information technology companies and emerging market-spaces.

Start-Up Innovation Jury

Another great example of how the industry is helping start-ups break down cross-border “walls” and get global exposure is the Start-Up Innovation Jury (http://www.postexpo.com/innovation_jury.php) staged by the Postal Innovation Platform (PIP) and Post-Expo, with support from US-based PostalVision. The first of its kind in the global postal-parcel-logistics-delivery ecosystem, the Start-Up Innovation Jury put out a call for start-ups around the world interested in competing in the event. With minimal marketing and exposure, over 45 start-ups from a long list of countries entered the competition.

During the Innovation Jury process, the start-ups presented their products/solutions that represented a “unique value proposition with potential to change the postal and logistics market or even create a new market.” A group of 12 start-ups were selected as finalists and allowed to present their products/solutions to an esteemed jury at the recent Post-Expo 2017 event held in Geneva September 26-29, 2017. Finalists heralded from a wide variety of countries, including the US, United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, India, Germany, Switzerland and Hong Kong. The winning start-up receives substantial visibility through industry publications, as well as the opportunity to present their product/solution to experts at Swiss Post, known for its support of innovation.

The types of products/solutions offered by the start-ups in the competition ranged from autonomous drone solutions, to shipping and returns solutions, tracking and security solutions, to crowd-share delivery solutions, and more.

The beauty of the Innovation Jury competition was providing these start-ups with an affordable process to obtain global exposure for their ideas. Just like posts in different countries today are collaborating and sharing ideas across borders, this kind of global competition is founded on the same principle – what works in one place may also work in another, and let’s not reinvent the wheel.

It is likely that more of these kinds of innovation jury events are coming in the postal industry’s global ecosystem in an effort to share ideas across borders and help support start-ups with products/solutions that are viable for multiple countries. A US-based start-up competition through PostalVision coming in 2018 is likely to continue the trend of breaking down borders for entrepreneurs.

Kathleen J. Siviter is president of Postal Consulting Services Inc. (PCSi) and has over 30 years’ experience in the postal industry, having worked for the U.S. Postal Service, Association for Postal Commerce (PostCom), and a diverse set of clients with interest in the postal industry. She also serves as the Director, Community & Brand Development, for PostalVision 2020 (http://www.postalvision2020.com), an initiative designed to engage stakeholders in discussions about the future of the American postal system.

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