Partnerships with start-ups ‘a strategic imperative’: Unilever

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/BrianAJackson
© iStock/BrianAJackson

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Unilever has made fostering relationships with start-up companies “a strategic imperative” as it works to leverage collaborations in order to meet evolving consumer needs.

Speaking at the Dmexco business and innovation platform in Cologne, Unilever’s global executive vice president of global marketing, Aline Santos, said that start-up businesses have become a source of innovation in the global consumer goods space.

“Collaboration can no longer be viewed as an optional extra, it’s a strategic imperative. Start-ups are now widely recognised as invaluable sources of innovation, fueling growth and providing pioneering business solutions,”​ she explained.

Santos unveiled a report by the Unilever Foundry, the Anglo-Dutch group’s platform for start-ups and innovators, which suggested that their collaboration with corporates will continue to rise in the coming years.

According to the research, 80% of corporates believes start-ups can have a positive influence on a large company’s innovation efforts, while 46% of start-ups who have not already worked with a larger company said they are likely to do so in the future.

Start-ups and corporates share a number of similar motivations for working together. The research showed the “three most important”​ reasons for working together included: learning something new, improving efficiency and finding scalable solutions to business problems.

“The State of Innovation report reveals the appetite for collaboration between corporates and start-ups and signals a shift in the models adopted for future partnerships,”​ Santos said.

The Unilever Foundry will continue to seek out “exciting new partnerships”​ and is “continually learning to ensure our future collaborations are effective as possible,”​ Santos added.

Partnerships incubated in the Unilever Foundry include the tie-up between Unilever’s Hellmann’s mayonnaise brand and home delivery start-up Quiqup, announced at the end of August.​ Unilever said the Hellmann’s brand aims to “engage with a new millennial audience”​ through a pilot scheme that will offer “on-demand recipe delivery”​ around London via the Quiqup app. 

Unilever’s predictions for future collaboration

In its report, Unilever predicted that start-ups and corporates will “work side by side in the same office”​ by 2025.

The company noted that, as the pace of change increases, corporates are increasingly aware of the need to work with agile, entrepreneurial companies. With 90% of those already working with a start-up expecting that this cooperation will continue, the Unilever Foundry suggested physically shared workspaces will become “commonplace”​.

The Unilever Foundry also believes that short-term “tech tourism”​ will be overtaken by a “more structured model”​ as corporates focus less on “short-term goals”​ and “publicity-driving quick fixes”​.

Finally, the Unilever Foundry predicted that start-up and corporate collaboration will evolve into a business-critical investment in the next five years

“In order to keep up with the accelerating rate of innovation in business, Unilever Foundry predicts that start-up collaboration will become a necessity for corporates over the next five years, with around four out of five corporates (79%) and start-ups (78%) anticipating more collaborative work in the future.”

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