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Unilever Launches Global Platform to Engage with Startups

Unilever has announced the launch of The Unilever Foundry, a platform that will enable innovative startups to partner with Unilever.

The company says the Foundry will enable its global brands to experiment with and pilot new technologies more efficiently, effectively and speedily. It will also provide startups and entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop and work on global projects, access mentoring from marketing professionals, and tap into a new source of funding through Unilever Ventures.

Keith Weed, Unilever's Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, explains: “We strive to be at the forefront of marketing and media innovation; to have our brands engage in the most creative, efficient and effective ways with the people we serve. Although we have been working with startups for years, we now want to scale up our efforts and, ultimately, embed this as a way of working throughout our organisation.”

“The Unilever Foundry will be our single our platform to harness, nurture and evolve thousands of innovative ideas from the entrepreneurial community. It will simplify the way in which small startups and entrepreneurs engage with a company of our size, offering an exciting opportunity for the best and brightest to pilot their technology with us,” adds SVP of Global Marketing Marc Mathieu. “Through The Unilever Foundry, we continue the Crafting Brands for Life journey to make our brands more human and more purposeful, while also empowering our marketers to pioneer the future.”

The Unilever Foundry offers three key opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs:

  1. Marketing Mentors: Over a period of three months, Unilever mentors will work individually with startups and entrepreneurs to craft their brand vision, marketing strategy and product roadmap. Luis Di Como, SVP of Media, explains: “Through mentoring, we hope to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and build businesses who might eventually become our global strategic partners. Mentoring also enables our marketers across the organisation to engage directly with startups and be inspired by new ideas and ways of working.”
  2. Projects: Through The Unilever Foundry Projects, Unilever brands and functional teams will post briefs where they are looking for innovative technology solutions. Companies with a proven technology are invited to pitch their solution and, if selected, pilot their technology with Unilever. The pitch-to-pilot process enables Unilever to embed experimentation at the heart of the marketing function, allowing new technologies to be piloted and new partnerships to be cultivated.
  3. Investment: The Unilever Foundry will also give companies the option to apply for funding through Unilever Ventures, the venture capital arm of Unilever. One of the investment focus areas for Unilever Ventures is ‘digital marketing’; and it has already made several successful investments in this space, including Brain Juicer, Yummly and Brandtone.

“Through The Unilever Foundry, we hope to make more startups aware of this opportunity to receive investment from the world’s second-largest advertiser. In combining our business and marketing knowledge with the expertise available in venture capital through The Unilever Foundry, we are in a position to provide the best of both worlds,” explains Olivier Garel, Head of Unilever Ventures.

“In an always-on, data-driven and connected world, innovative and forward-thinking technology companies will play a vital role in helping our brands continue to engage meaningfully with people everywhere,” Weed says. “The Unilever Foundry will open a direct line of communication with all these companies, so we can work together and mutually benefit.”

Unilever has quite a history of connecting with entrepreneurs and startups to co-create sustainable solutions: In 2012, the company launched an online Open Innovation platform to connect with experts who may be able to help the CPG giant find technical solutions to achieve its sustainable growth strategy; in August 2013, Unilever announced that it would crowdsource ideas for a more environmentally friendly shower through; and in September, the company announced the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneur Awards, an international awards program designed to inspire young people around the world to tackle environmental, social and health issues.

Seeking inspiration and innovation from entrepreneurs is perhaps one strategy that has enabled Unilever to retain the title of Sustainability Leader for the fourth year in a row.


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