Unilever looks to bring disruptive start-ups inhouse

UnileverUnilever is looking to bridge the gap between industry disruptors and established companies, outlining a bold prediction that start-ups will be working under the same roof as big corporates by 2025.

The FMCG giant, which owns Lipton, Magnum, Dove, Rexona and Omo, has been open about its interest in acquiring agile brands in recent years, having bought the world’s fastest growing tea brand just last week.

But in its latest whitepaper, released at the Dmexco conference this week, the multinational’s EVP of global marketing, Aline Santos, said that collaboration was ultimately the way forward.

“Collaboration can no longer be viewed as an optional extra, it’s a strategic imperative. Startups are now widely recognised as invaluable sources of innovation, fueling growth and providing pioneering business solutions,” said Santos.

“[The] report reveals the appetite for collaboration between corporates and startups and signals a shift in the models adopted for future partnerships.

In response to its findings —sourced from the experiences of 200 brand managers and heads of innovation, as well as 100 startup founders and directors across India, Singapore, the UK and the US— Unilever has committed its innovation lab, the Unilever Foundry, to a physical space partnership with start-ups by 2025.

With 90 per cent of corporate respondents already working with start-ups saying they will continue to do so, Unilever believes that working side-by-side with startups will break down communication barriers and drive positive cultural change.

More than 80 per cent of corporate and start-ups provided three key reasons for wanting to work together: learning something new, improving efficiencies and solving business problems in new ways that can scale.

Unilever’s research has shown a short term boom in “tech tourism”, shorter term partnerships such as HQ trips, but believes structured programmes will emerge as the long term winner.

While 83 per cent of startups value the publicity from these short term models, 80 per cent of corporates believe that startups can have a positive impact on large companies’ approaches to innovation in the longer term.

Moreover, the multinational giant also sees startup and corporate collaboration evolving from an optional extra to a ritical investment in the next five years.

Around four out of five corporates (79%) and startups (78%) anticipate more collaborative work in the future, while startups believe they’re up to snuff, with almost nine in ten (89%) claiming they’re able to deliver business solutions which can scale.

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