‘Pitch, Pilot, Partner’: How the Unilever Foundry works with startups

Most large companies have no trouble finding startups to work with. The challenge is getting real value out of the collaboration.

jbasset-unileverSince its inception in May 2014, an incubator at Unilever, the $59 billion Anglo-Dutch consumer packaged goods company, has employed a simple three-stage process — pitch, pilot, partner — that has led to the launch of more than 90 pilots with 90 different startups. The company has subsequently decided to scale about half of those. It’s a model that pushes startups hardest and gets results for the multinational company the quickest, says Jeremy Basset, head of the incubator, known as Unilever Foundry.

“In a world that is changing so fast, experimentation and failure are actually the key ingredients to making sure you are leading the agenda and learning as you go,” says Basset, who has been with Unilever since 2003 and is based in London. “As an organization, we have to become much more comfortable with the idea of failure and seeing that as part of the journey to actually getting something that is scalable.” Some of Unilever’s best-known brands include Axe, Dove, Lipton, Ben & Jerry’s, and Marmite.

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