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Most of today’s largest titans of industry started out as small businesses—and it appears that many of them haven’t forgotten where they came from or how hard it was to get started.
So they’re lending a helping hand to others.
Dell, Google, Microsoft and Walmart are some examples of American companies whose founders climbed to the top of their respective fields, and then promptly turned right back around to help the next generation of entrepreneurs coming up behind them.
While it may seem a bit counterintuitive for major companies to fund their future competitors, the practice can be beneficial for both groups. Small business owners and startup founders can take advantage of the larger company’s first-class resources, networking and financial opportunities, while the larger firms lay the groundwork for future partnerships and get a look at some of latest innovative technologies and business practices.
Here’s a closer look at how some of the nation’s biggest companies are helping out up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
Dell has long been a major force for backing entrepreneurs. The computer technology company, founded by Michael Dell in his college dorm room, mostly worked with smaller businesses in the early years before it found success selling directly to consumers in the 1990s.
As a company, Dell has also taken an active role in promoting small businesses and recently partnered with D.C.-based incubator 1776 to create a platform called Union, which will help entrepreneurs anywhere in the world access resources such as online courses and provide access to experts, mentors, and even potential investors and customers. The company also runs the Dell for Entrepreneurs program, which provides innovators in the U.S. and abroad with mentoring, capital and startup resources.
In 2014, Michael Dell was named the United Nation Foundation’s first Global Advocate for Entrepreneurship in recognition of his career-long efforts to help boost entrepreneurship around the world.
Sam Walton launched his iconic company in his home state of Arkansas in 1962. In recent years, the company has returned to its humble roots by launching a series of entrepreneurship programs aimed at helping America’s small businesses.
Its initiatives cover a wide range of opportunities, including the Get On The Shelf program. Started in 2012, the program offers small companies a chance to have their products placed on Walmart shelves at select locations and sold on the company’s massive e-commerce website. The crowdsourcing competition requires businesses and product developers submit videos highlighting their products, which are then screened by Walmart executives and put up to a popular vote, with five winning products chosen at the end.
The company is also dipping its toes into tech with Walmart Labs—a startup-like arm of the company that looks for disruptive technologies in the retail space. Earlier this year, the company announced open calls for tech startups to pitch their solutions in the hopes of landing a partnership.
Walmart isn’t the only major retailer running a startup-focused program, either. Target launched its own entrepreneur-in-residence program last year.
Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin likely understand as well as anyone how important new ideas and fresh talent are to a young and growing business. The duo, who quickly went from working in a converted garage to becoming the force behind one of the world’s most powerful tech companies, have continually invested in startups and sometimes acquired them to help Google stay on the cutting edge of technology.
One of the company’s hallmark initiatives is Google for Entrepreneurs, which provides support to startup communities across the country. The program offers access to co-working spaces, resources, financial support, mentorship and training opportunities so entrepreneurs can turn their ideas into sustainable businesses.
Other notable programs backed by the company include Let’s Put Our Cities on the Map, which helps small businesses improve their online presence, and 30 Weeks, which helps designers launch and build scalable companies.
For many early-stage startups, finding investment capital can seem impossible. Microsoft hopes to change that through a program called Microsoft Ventures, which invests in “Series A and beyond” companies that are attempting to scale.
In addition, the company’s BizSpark program provides free support, tools (including cloud computing services) and mentorship to growing businesses. Companies must be privately held, less than five years old, earn less than $1 million in annual revenues in order to be accepted into the program.