The process should first begin with a clearly defined objective, which helps to guide the rest of the activities. In other words the objective criteria helps to create filters in the target identification aspect of the M&A process. Next would be to determine if you will use advisors or internal resource or a business broker to help filter and identify targets. Each has their pros and cons but the key will be the level and quality of due diligence to ensure that only qualifying targets are assessed. Once you have aligned on a target then a “Deal Team” would need to be assembled to conduct robust enhanced due diligence and confirmatory due diligence and once the acquisition is confirmed a go integration planning should ideally commence.
For startups the aforementioned approach would probably involve only the management team and a 1 or 2 advisors given the lack of history in the target. Acquisition of start-ups may be for the talent acquisition or patent or new strategic business line. In all cases, it will require the same general path only with greater scale based on the complexity and required skill sets to conduct the diligence and integration activities.