Unilever seeks to strengthen ties with start-ups with 'democratising' platform

Marc Mathieu: Unliever's senior vice-president of marketing
Marc Mathieu: Unliever's senior vice-president of marketing

Unilever is seeking to lure start-ups to the company with a Unilever Foundry platform that will provide a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs seeking mentoring, projects to pitch for, and investment.

The initiative launches today and differs from the company’s venture capital arm Unilever Ventures in that is aims to be a "democratisation of access both for the start-ups and our brands", according to Unliever senior vice-president of marketing Marc Mathieu.

Brand teams from across the Unilever business will be able to put up briefs on the website to find new technologies that can help them fulfil business objectives. 

There will be a $50,000 (£30,000) minimum investment for each pilot project, while there is no upper limit set.

Mathieu said: "We are not an accelerator or an incubator– that is not what we do. There is a risk that if you get too early with a start-up, you will influence them and they will lose their plot.

"They need to find their own plot and prove it in one market. We come in when they don’t have the scale."

Mathieu added that the company would not take an equity stake in the initial stages, but it would consider taking equity stakes in the companies later.

The Unilever Foundry, which has been developed in conjunction with R/GA London, will also involve 80 mentors from the Unilever marketing team providing one hour every three weeks of their time to the start-ups..

Unilever will help the start-ups with their marketing and product strategies and in return, Unilever hopes its marketers "become a little bit more entrepreneurial".

The initiative is particularly looking for start-ups that work in the mobile, content, data, analytics and internet of things.

Mathieu added: "Marketing is changing so fast that the start-ups are the ones that reinvent marketing day after day. Ten years ago we did not work with any start-ups because there was no Facebook or Google.

"The big start-ups of tomorrow are being born today and this is here to stay. You can no longer create a model and then replicate it for decades or a century."

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