Diageo launches start-up partnership scheme

Diageo is launching a new venture that will see it fund technology start-ups to work on briefs such as tackling irresponsible drinking and combatting retail theft.

Diageo Technology Ventures launched to help the drinks maker solve business problems with the aid of start-ups.

It joins companies such as Unilever, Nike, Telefonica and Mondelez as the latest in a line of global brands to launch start-up partnership and accelerator schemes in recent months.

Successful applications to the Diageo Technology Ventures innovation programme will work with some of the drinks company’s top executives, with a $100,000 fund committed by the company to support each pilot project.

Unlike other schemes, selected companies will operate separately to Diageo and the company will not be providing office space or infrastructure support.

At the end of the pilot period, Diageo says it will assess each partner with the ambition that the initial projects will develop into longer-term partnerships – but there is no guarantee this will be the case. Diageo also says it remains “open” to the option of equity funding at a later date.

Diageo chief marketing officer Syl Saller, who will sit on the Technology Ventures steering committee alongside other senior leaders in the business, says the launch allows the company to solve some of its biggest business challenges with start-ups that are “truly defining disruptive innovation”.

She adds: “This programme will also further build our internal ability to move with pace and provoke a genuine entrepreneurial mind set in our pursuit of breakthrough innovation. It underlines our fundamental belief that through partnerships with forward-thinking start-ups and entrepreneurs we will deliver competitive advantage for our business.”

The scheme launches with a brief seeking out technologies and platforms that will encourage consumers to drink responsibly in ways that “do not intrude the social flow of life” in both developed and emerging markets.

A second brief asks start-ups to develop technologies – such as smart-monitoring, data platforms or new packaging technologies – to counter the problem of shoplifting, employee theft and organised crime in the supply chain.

Applications close in October, with the first partners due to be selected in November. The pilots are expected to launch in March next year and will be reviewed and potentially scaled in June 2015.

The launch follows Diageo’s decision in June to scrap its specialist marketing innovation unit in a bid to give its brand teams more control over discovering emerging digital platforms and testing new media strategies.

The Smirnoff and Guinness owner reported a 0.8 per cent increase in operating margin and a 0.4 per cent increase in net sales in the 12 months to 30 June.

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