When Leigh Radford started the venture unit inside Proctor & Gamble, she was tasked with creating the next billion-dollar business for the personal care company. In order to scope out startups with potential, her team has spent the last six years looking beyond hair care, deodorants, and detergent.

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Leigh Radford, Senior Vice President, General Manager, and Founder of P&G Ventures

“We really find new categories that are emerging based on new needs that are emerging from consumers,” Radford says. “I believe the next billion-dollar business at P&G is going to come from the combination of entrepreneurs and P&G… Bringing those two together is really where the magic is.”

Radford is the Senior Vice President, General Manager, and Founder of P&G Ventures. According to Radford, the program most closely resembles a startup studio where entrepreneurs can co-create with the team at P&G. 

“We focus on early, seed propositions, and we grow them and then launch them within different models both inside and outside the company,” Radford says. Participating startups also have access to the company’s resources, including supply chain, legal, branding, and communications.

Recent projects have focused on women’s wellness, sleep, and “active aging.” One startup, Zevo, which partnered with P&G Ventures, offers a non-toxic insect repellent that can now be purchased at Home Depot, Target, and select Walmart stores.

During a recent conversation with Innovation Leader, Radford shared tips for building a venture program with longevity.

Your group has existed for six years. What helped set a strong foundation in the early days?

Leigh Radford: There were a couple of principles that we knew had to be true. One, it had to be led from the top early, reporting directly to the CEO with full board visibility. And this is because you’re creating new businesses for a company that has very strong existing categories. We wanted to make sure anything we were working on or investing in had the support of the CEO and the board, to ensure that long-term support, because sometimes these things take a while to [become profitable]…

I think the other one is just putting the right team together — and these are very senior leaders within P&G. These are leaders who have always had a passion for innovation and creating new categories and bringing those individuals together that had the agility, maturity, and ability to take risks that were really needed.

What’s been helpful in to creating a mutually-beneficial relationship between P&G and startups?

Leigh Radford: In this situation, we’re starting with the entrepreneur and asking what their needs are, and what their biggest challenges are, and what their dreams are. And by really understanding that we are able to craft multiple different models that meet their needs, versus a one-shot model. We’re up to like 12 or 13 different models that are all unique to those entrepreneurs. … Some have an amazing technology, but are looking for marketing help. Some actually have a great brand, but are looking for opportunities to scale or credential…

One thing that we also know is that a lot of technologies and brands that are out there are really missing the IP [intellectual property]…needed for them to scale. … Once you’re starting to scale into more traditional channels, our point of difference has to be sustainable, and apparent, especially at premium types of price points. That’s where we help a lot by bringing in technologies to augment the technologies that we see, to make them longer standing, and protected from IP and others, that gives them the better chance of becoming billion dollar businesses. 

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Do you have any advice to share on creating a healthy attitude towards risk or the right approach to failure?

Leigh Radford: We try to fail early, and we try to fail fast. … I’m a very big believer…[in] learnings ahead of investment, and that has really treated us well to make sure we’re not over-invested in things where the learnings aren’t solidified. And, you know, we look at key milestones — budgeting and things like that — that just helps us to get really smart.

I also love the fact that half of the organization are scientists who know about hypotheses of going out there and learning and failing, and not every experiment works. Bringing that type of mentality into the ventures is really important. So, our portfolio is very broad at the front end of the portfolio. That allows us to do a lot of inexpensive experiments to fail quickly and fail inexpensively.