The platform will small companies and entrepreneurs seeking to work with Unilever with a single entry-point - known as The Unilever Foundry. The firm said the set up will enable its global brands to 'experiment with and pilot new technologies more efficiently, effectively and speedily' in addition to providing start-ups and entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop and work on global projects, access mentoring from marketing professionals, and tap into a new source of funding.
"Although we have been working with start-ups for years, we now want to scale up our efforts and, ultimately, embed this as a way of working throughout our organisation," explained Keith Weed, Unilever chief marketing and communications officer.
“The Unilever Foundry will be our single our platform to harness, nurture and evolve thousands of innovative ideas from the entrepreneurial community."
Marc Mathieu, senior vice president, global marketing said the platform will simplify the way in which small start-ups and entrepreneurs engage with the food giant - "offering an exciting opportunity for the best and brightest to pilot their technology with us."
“In an always-on, data-driven and connected world, innovative and forward-thinking technology companies will play a vital role in helping our brands continue to engage meaningfully with people everywhere," said Weed - adding that the platform will open a 'direct line' to innovative companies and enable them to mutually benefit from working together.
The firm said that the new global platform will offer three key opportunities for start-ups and entrepreneurs:
Over a period of three months, Unilever mentors will work individually with start-ups and entrepreneurs to craft their brand vision, 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," explained Luis Di Como, senior vice president of media. "Mentoring also enables our marketers across the organisation to engage directly with start-ups and be inspired by new ideas and ways of working.”
Unilever plans to use the platform to let its brands and functional teams to post briefs, describing what they are looking for in terms of innovative technology solutions.
Companies with proven technology will be invited to pitch their solution and, if selected, pilot their technology with Unilever.
The firm will also give companies the option to apply for funding through Unilever Ventures - the venture capital arm of Unilever.
One of the investment focus areas for Unilever Ventures is ‘digital marketing’; where it has already made several investments including Brain Juicer, Yummly and Brandtone.
“Through The Unilever Foundry, we hope to make more start-ups aware of this opportunity to receive investment from the world’s second largest advertiser," said Olivier Garel, head of Unilever Ventures.
"In combining our business and marketing knowledge with the expertise available in venture capital ... we are in a position to provide the best of both worlds,” he commented.