Unilever expands program connecting brands with startups

FMCG giant's Foundry program seeks to support technology entrepreneurs through marketing mentorship initiatives as well as pilot programs that bring brands and digital entrepreneurs together

Unilever is expanding efforts to connect its brands with startups by launching its Foundry partnership program into a third country this month.

The Unilever Foundry is a global initiative aimed at supporting technology entrepreneurs through pilot projects, mentorship and partnerships with the FMCG giant’s marketing teams and investment arm.

First announced in the UK in May 2014, the program has already expanded into the Philippines and will be unveiled in Singapore in on 15 January. To date, Unilever claims to have launched or committed to launching 50 pilots with startups worldwide.

While there are no immediate plans to bring the program to Australia, its rapid expansion signals Unilever’s growing awareness of the importance of startups in driving digital change and marketing opportunities. In addition, projects being launched and managed out of Singapore have a regional and global relevance and will not be restricted to Singaporean companies but open to startups globally.

According to Unilever senior vice-president of global marketing, Marc Mathieu, the Foundry provides a platform to harness, nurture and evolve innovative ideas from across the startup community.

“It has simplified the way that 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,” he said.

There are three aspects to the program. The first sees Unilever mentoring startups and entrepreneurs over a period of three months around brand vision, product roadmap development and marketing strategy.

The second component is a projects initiative, where brands and teams under the Unilever umbrella will create specific briefs for partnerships that technology and digital solutions providers can pitch for. Successful pilot partners then have an improved chance of receiving investment from Unilever’s venture capital arm, Unilever Ventures, the company said.

Examples of pilots undertaken by Unilever with startups to date include a partnership between Magnum and NewAer to pioneer iBeacon technology in ice cream cabinets, and one between Knorr and Digital Genius to provide smartphone users with dinner recipes and content.

Unilever is one of an increasing number of big brands worldwide trying to tap into the creativity and innovative thinking inherent to the startup community.

Another high-profile example is the Mobile Futures program created by snacking brand, Mondelez International, which launched in Australia in 2014 after success in the US and Brazil. The program has the combined aim of driving new investment into mobile marketing initiatives, as well as helping the company’s brand teams embrace a more entrepreneurial mindset.

The Australian leg saw five brands - Cadbury’s Daily Milk and Favourites, Philadelphia cream cheese, belVita breakfast biscuits and Marvellous Creations - partner with local mobile startups to create new mobile marketing opportunities.

Read more:Mondelez reveals results of mobile marketing program with tech startups
Mondelez Mobile Futures Program: Brand pilots and lessons learnt
BelVita Australian brand leader: Marketers need an entrepreneurial mindset

NRMA’s 12-week Jumpstart program is also aimed at partnering with startups and provides successful applicants with $30,000 and a workspace to bring new services to NRMA members.

Briefs provided under the global Unilever Foundry program are:

  1. Greener laundry washing: Providing digital solutions that help optimise washing processes;

  2. Hand wash: Helping promote and enable more regular hand washing across public restrooms in low-income areas;

  3. Home cleaning: From burden to opportunity: Fostering peer-to-peer service offerings for mums around home cleaning, with a focus on phone-based markets such as Brazil;

  4. Every drop counts: For its Sunlight dishwashing detergent, the FMCG group wants technology companies to help with initiatives that save time, water and effort in dishwashing;

  5. Let kids be kinds: Tied to its Paddle Pops brand purpose, Unilever is looking for startups that can help it play a greater role in driving kids to become more physically active;

  6. Knorr storytelling – from farm to fork: Delivering more immersive storytelling for cooks and shoppers around the brand’s support of sustainable farming practices.

In a statement, Unilever South East Asia and Australasia president, Peter Ter Kulve, said the Singapore program opened up a direct line of communication with startups locally and across the region.

“In our data-driven and connected world, forward-thinking technology companies will play a vital role in helping our brands to engage with people in a meaningful way,” he said.

Unilever's portfolio of brands includes Omo, Lipton, Rexona, Surf, Dove, Sunsilk, Lux, Flora, Radox and Lynx.

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