How Unilever is getting cozy with startups

Unilever has taken another step on its voyage into the tech world by launching the Unilever Foundry, where startups can apply to pitch their technology solutions.

With the Foundry, Unilever hopes to plug start-up creativity into its own global network, providing scale and support start-ups can’t easily find on their own. In exchange for working on a Foundry project, selected start-ups receive a minimum of $50,000 in initial funding and access to Unilever’s 7,000 marketing expertise via a three-month mentoring program through which the start-ups can develop their brand, marketing strategy and product roadmap.

“Through mentoring, we hope to contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and build businesses who might eventually become our global strategic partners,” said Luis Di Como, senior vice president for media. “Mentoring also enables our marketers across the organization to engage directly with start-ups and be inspired by new ideas and ways of working.”

Current projects, all of which can be found on f6s, include one called “Smart Kitchens”, which includes this description: “We want to enable families to plan, organize and cook their food more efficiently and enjoyably by creating ‘Smart Kitchens’. We’re seeking partners to develop an ecosystem of digital tools to give households intelligent insights into their family’s eating habits.”

Unilever has long experimented with emerging technology through its venture capital arm, Unilever Ventures, which shares digital marketing as focus with the Unilever Foundry. Ventures has been around a lot longer, and has invested in startups like Brain Juicer, Yummly and Brandtone. It also seeks startups with digital marketing solutions, and so the two will work together closely.

According to a company representative, there are currently no caps on funding or amount of time Unilever will give start-ups to do their work. “We want strategic partners but it is not possible to put a strict limit on investment or time as the level of collaboration is likely to be very different, start-up to start-up”.

The Foundry team is led by Jeremy Basset, global marketing strategy & new ventures director, and was devised by Unilever and various agencies as well as technology scouts.

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