The Unilever Foundry Lends Process to Innovation

June 3rd, 2014

Strategic partnerships between global corporations and emerging technology companies are often transformative for both. Unilever has recognized the immense value of these relationships and actively embraced the innovation imperative with the recent launch of The Unilever Foundry, firmly moving innovation partnerships from an occasional endeavor to a consistent, ongoing part of their business. Untitled The Foundry is an innovation platform, managed by a cross-functional team, designed to facilitate engagement between Unilever brands and the world’s most innovative new startups. It will allow these global brands to experiment and pilot new technologies more efficiently, effectively and frequently.

Unilever, one of KITE’s early adopters, has recently expanded their innovation efforts to create more opportunities for companies large and small to work with its many world-class brands. Unilever Ventures, Unilever’s global venture arm, and innovation programs like Go Global have been the driving forces behind these efforts. When asked to power the Go Global initiative, we helped narrow over 30,000 companies down to seven selected partners for seven Unilever brands in seven unique global markets (see Unilever’s Andy Donner & KITE’s Mark Silva discuss here). We are pleased to continue this collaboration as one of the first strategic partners supporting the Foundry from launch forward.

Process Makes Perfect

It’s no surprise that Unilever secured KITE as an early partner for The Foundry, as it aligns with our core goal: facilitating strategic connections between brands and startups that result in great outcomes for all, with unprecedented speed and scale. We will be contributing our innovation platform and venture-quality partnership process expertise to brands that participate in The Foundry, helping the most compatible strategic partners to find each other.

By integrating innovation and experimentation into corporate DNA, big brands are beginning to recognize the value of  iteration in the corporate culture. Iteration has been central to startup culture for years, but the corporate world has only recently started to embrace it, allocating personnel and budgets to innovation initiatives. In developing an internal experimentation process– codifying innovation– brands like Unilever can think reflectively, assess needs, solidify long-term goals and act quickly and decisively.

When a process is developed around innovation partnerships, it’s easier for brands rule out appealing, yet irrelevant partners (aka “shiny objects”) and find truly compatible business partners that helps them meet corporate goals efficiently and effectively.

We Rise Together

The benefits of innovation programs like The Foundry are two-sided. Unilever secures best-in-class partners; selected startups gain access to Unilever’s vast pool of corporate resources. Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 10.53.40 AM In addition to immediate revenues, startups will be able to tap into to Unilever corporate and brand mentors that will lend a high level of specialized expertise, which can help their own business strategies and ability to grow to scale.

The Foundry platform allows startups to find a mentor who is right for them, based on the skills they’d like to access and the city in which they are based. The mentoring program is designed to span three months and involves a one-hour meeting every 2-3 weeks. If a chosen startup demonstrates deep strategic market opportunity, it is possible that Unilever Ventures will express interest in investing. Ventures is currently looking for startups or “scale-ups” that address: Digital Marketing, Personal Care, Refreshments and Sustainability.

Initial Foundry Projects

At launch, The Foundry’s briefs include some of today’s most dynamic areas of technology:

Smart Kitchens

Unilever is looking to provide families with valuable insights into their eating habits and make life in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable.  For their Smart Kitchens project they’re interested in market-tested startups in these fields:

  • Food-related Internet of Things (“IoT”) and/or systems integration
  • Retail SKUs and CPG linkage

Sustainable Living at Home

Reducing the environmental impact of Unilever products is an ongoing company priority. As a result, they have released this Sustainability Plan. One of the first places they are implementing this plan is in the home. The Foundry is looking for:

  • Ready-to-scale, market-tested sustainability technologies
  • Startups/scale-ups with an understanding of behavioral changes tied to sustainable living

In-Store Digital Customer Experience

Unilever wants to encourage their retailers to make the shopper experience more enjoyable and rewarding, both in-store and online. They are interested in a range of robust shopper solutions that are looking to scale up with exposure to new markets and Unilever’s extensive pool of retailers.

Quantified Self & Consumer Insights

The Quantified Self movement and tech that makes it easier to observe behaviors have generated an unprecedented amount of real-time, observational data (as opposed to reflective, self-reported data). Harnessing and contextualizing this data will help Unilever unlock a wealth of consumer insights.  Unilever is looking for startups/scale-ups addressing:

  • IoT
  • Monitoring/Observational Tech
  • Consumer Research

Startups: to see the Foundry’s evolving list of projects and to submit a proposal, click visit the site. Remember to return to this site on a regular basis to see new project briefs.

While a Foundry-type platform may not be the right solution for every business, the addition of codified process around innovation certainly is. Each company must take the time to define desired outcomes and craft their own unique structure to motivate stakeholders and drive meaningful outcomes with selected partners.

Marketers and agencies: we would love to discuss your innovation goals in depth and build a lasting support structure with you. Just email