Jeremy Basset, Director of The Unilever Foundry, on working with startups

Q. Are projects such as Unilever’s Foundry the best way to for brands to source start-ups?

Jeremy Basset: We have experimented in this space and still follow a range of different formats. We do speed dating sessions, where the primary objective is to create a mentorship relationship. Hack sessions, where we put 40 people in a room for 24 hours and work with them to hack out ideas and solutions. Then there is pitching.

Of those three the pitch, pilot, partner process is the one we use frequently. What is nice about it is that we’re really investing money straight back into the start-ups rather than infrastructure – like a lab for instance, that is an investment in buildings.

Q. What trends do you see in what the start-ups offer and what brands are looking for?

Jeremy Basset: From a brand perspective we are very active in mobile – 60% of our turnover comes from developing and emerging markets and in those market the primary form of engagement is around mobile.

We’re also looking at new ways to bring the in-store experience to life – proximity marketing and beacon technology is interesting and we have a brief on that at the moment.

Q. Why use start-ups over preferred suppliers?

Jeremy Basset: For us it’s not either or we still have preferred suppliers that we spend with each year. Where we see start-ups playing a role is bringing freshness to the overall way of working.

The Foundry internally is about the pitch, pilot and partnering process but it’s also about trying to drive cultural transformation to make people more entrepreneurial and opening to experimentation, risk-taking, launching and learning rather than planning or perfecting.

Q. What does each party get?

Jeremy Basset: If you define the parties as the start-ups, Unilever and then the marketers involved, the start-ups get the chance to scale up and we are not taking equity at this stage, this is about leveraging their technology in exchange for a paid pilot. For Unilever it gives us access to technology that is not available elsewhere.

For our marketers the big opportunity is around understanding the mind of the entrepreneur, the thing about entrepreneurship is that it’s contagious, the closer you get to working with entrepreneurs the more entrepreneurial you want to become.

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