My role as manager of BBC Worldwide’s startup accelerator programme, BBC Worldwide Labs, is to strategically and commercially partner with and support the most innovative up-and-coming digital media companies that are helping to define the emerging digital landscape. This involves treading the line between the quick moving start-up and the understandable cautiousness of the business.

I often find myself comparing the activities of these opposites to Aesop’s fable The Tortoise and the Hare. In my story, the startup is the hare – chopping and changing at a rapid speed to try and stay ahead of the game, desperately racing to cross the finish line but in danger of stumbling a few metres short (running out of money, traction, luck!)

BBC Labs programme manager Hannah Blake ©BBCWorldwide
BBC Labs programme manager Hannah Blake ©BBCWorldwide

And then there is the big corporation - the tortoise. The tortoise moves slowly, taking its time over each step, not worrying about being first to cross the line, but making sure that when it gets there it does so in one piece, having mitigated risk and considered all options.

Now, we all know what happens in the fable - the tortoise ends up crossing the line first. However, in my updated 21st century version, the unequal partners would cross the line together.

Because we now live in a world which changes at an unprecedented speed, the tortoise can’t cross that finishing line on his own anymore – he has to do so hand-in-hand with the hare, whilst the hare needs the depth of resources and experience possessed by the tortoise to avoid falling flat.

At BBC Worldwide Labs we’ve secured many partnerships that illustrate this well. Our organisation is known for its high quality content but through the startups that we’ve worked with, we’ve been able to take that content to the next level, to make it relevant in today’s very different media landscape. For example: we’ve made our BBC Good Food recipe content shoppable (Constant Commerce); our trailers for Sherlock and Luther interactive (Wirewax); used facial recognition technology to understand how our audience really feel when they watch our programmes (Crowdemotion); and white-labelled an app that allows our BBC Earth fans to capture their own content and contribute to the conversation (Seenit).

And it’s not just us! Take Unilever. They're testing ad-tech startup formats by startups such as Rezonence and Ad Ludio to achieve higher brand engagement. Because banner ads aren’t going to cut it anymore, especially not on mobile. 

Or John Lewis, working with iBeacon startups because if one thing is for certain, the retail operation and shopping experience of this iconic department store, is not going to remain the same.

BBC Worldwide’s CEO Tim Davie was recently quoted saying: “The truth is that it’s fatal for businesses like ours to not understand what’s really happening in terms of the speed of change in the market.

And we can’t truly understand that pace of change by working within ourselves. Corporations must look externally to stay ahead of their competitors and to gain a complete picture of the landscape in which they operate.

We can take many lessons from Aesop’s traditional fable, but one thing is for certain – today’s slow and steady tortoise won’t win the innovation race alone.