Unilever: corporates + startups = ultimate partnership

22 Sep 2017

Unilever Foundry, a global platform for startups and innovators to engage and collaborate, predicts corporates and startups will form the ultimate partnership, working side by side in the same physical space by 2025.

Unilever: corporates + startups = ultimate partnership

Unilever Foundry, a global platform for startups and innovators to engage and collaborate, predicts corporates and startups will form the ultimate partnership, working side by side in the same physical space by 2025, seeking greater proximity for innovation as they evolve to meet changing consumer needs.

‘The State of Innovation’, a global study and whitepaper from Unilever Foundry, looks at how the relationship between corporates and startups will continue to evolve. The whitepaper identifies three predictions on how the industry will change over the next decade.

“Collaboration can no longer be viewed as an optional extra, it’s a strategic imperative,” said Aline Santos, Unilever’s EVP for Global Marketing. “Startups are now widely recognised as invaluable sources of innovation, fueling growth and providing pioneering business solutions. The State of Innovation report reveals the appetite for collaboration between corporates and startups and signals a shift in the models adopted for future partnerships. As the Unilever Foundry continues its journey looking for exciting new partnerships, we are continually learning to ensure our future collaborations are effective as possible.”

Key findings from The State of Innovation include

Startups and corporates to work side by side in the same office by 2025

As the pace of change increases, corporations know that to meet evolving consumer needs, they need to look for the right partners to innovate and build relationships with.

With 90% of corporates already working with a startup expecting to continue to do so, Unilever Foundry predicts physical shared working spaces will become commonplace to facilitate growth and break down barriers to collaboration. The research reveals the three most important reasons for working together; learning something new (startups 88%/corporates 85%), improving efficiency (startups 81%/corporates 81%) and solving business problems in new ways that can scale (startups 89%/corporates 80%).

The future of corporate and startup innovation; a short-term boom in “tech tourism” but structured programmes emerging as the long-term winner

Unilever Foundry predicts an initial rise in ‘tech tourism’, an exploratory activity ranging from trips to tech HQs to short term PR burst, over more structured models, as corporates focus on less formal partnerships and shorter-term goals. Publicity is a major draw for startups (83%) and whilst this can be an instant gain from tech tourism, this approach can neglect other valued partnership outcomes.

Four out of five (80%) corporates believe that startups can have a positive impact on a large company’s approach to innovation. As a result, Unilever Foundry predicts that corporates will become more willing to invest in structured programmes as companies choose meaningful partnerships over publicity-driving quick fixes, resulting in a decrease in tech tourism. One startup described their frustrations with tech tourism models saying: “At the low end of the spectrum is tech tourism: a brand shows up in Silicon Valley, rides the Google slide, meets a couple of startups – at best it's inspirational but basically it's a waste of time. […] Startups want meaningful new initiatives and uses of technology.”

Startup and corporate collaboration will evolve from an optional extra to 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 startup collaboration will become a necessity for corporates over the next five years, with around four out of five corporates (79%) and startups (78%) anticipating more collaborative work in the future. Startups believe they are up to the task, with almost nine in ten (89%) claiming they’re able to deliver business solutions which can scale.