Corporates have stopped seeing startups or SMEs as food. They are becoming gentler giants cradling diamonds in the rough. 68 out of 100 top companies from the Forbes Global 500 are now engaging with startups in some way.
Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, believes that startups can offer wonderful opportunities for innovation as consumer behavior evolves. “Traditional companies need to look at changes over a five- to 10-year period. If you don’t implement these things now in six to 12 months, you’re probably toast,” he said.
Unilever wants to accelerate its transformation by engaging with startups to inspire experimentation within the business and contribute to the growth of Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem.
Taking co-working to the next level
An emerging way for corporates hoping to work with startups is through co-working spaces. This “innovation springboard” model brings corporates, startups, and entrepreneurs from all around the world together for collaboration and knowledge sharing.
Unilever Foundry, the company’s global platform to connect startups with Unilever’s brands, has collaborated with innovation catalyst Padang & Co, to create Level3, a workspace where startups can find business opportunities and like-minded business partners in Unilever and other ecosystem partners to scale in the region.
Polman sees this as a great way for Unilever to work with startups and include them in its value chain.
Power of Proximity
Connected to Unilever’s regional headquarters, Level3 is the first of its kind in corporate innovation. The physical proximity between Unilever and startups allows for easy exchange of expertise and insights.
“To me, I think it’s about how to make the best out of corporate innovation. When corporates and startups meld it’s not perfect. For one, big corporates have more bureaucracy. But a co-working space, because of its proximity, works,” said Gwendolyn Tan, director of strategy and business development at Mashable Asia Pacific, speaking at the launch of Level3.
“The fact that we’re physically close with Unilever is great. I am working directly with Unilever’s supply chain team and we hope that being on the same premises will allow us to work together,” Level3 member from EcoHub, KK Han said.
Helping startups be more sustainable
Startups may have a great idea, but lack strength in operations and capital. Traditionally, corporates have provided access to business expertise and money.
“For startups, cash is our oxygen. Finding a way to bridge the gap between cash and business is important to foster collaboration,” Level3 member, Karim Aly, CEO of TaskSpotting, explained.
For instance, EcoHub supports the inclusive growth of farmers and is aligned with Unilever’s mission. The startup collects small farmers’ data to enable track and trace of produce, and create an “institutional framework” to certify farmers and perform checks. Working with Unilever allows them to improve their brand building and supply chain management, and benefits others beyond the co-working space.
Over 16 startups based at Level3 are working with Unilever on a range of projects including data analytics, supply chain, rural activations, content creation, and consumer insights.
Co-creating use cases backed by revenue is one key way to help startups succeed. Corporate partnerships cannot just be about funding. They need to be built as a partnership that will not just ensure the success of the project, but the long-term sustainability of the startup.
To provide more support, the Unilever Foundry Mentorship Programme was launched in July. Over half of Level3’s startups are now connected to a Unilever mentor.
Tapping into startups’ prescient power
The power of startups is not just in their technology, but in what they know and how they share these insights to corporates. “The critical part is being able to synthesize learning from startups and communicate these [to corporate partners],” said GetCraft’s
Patrick Searle, adding that startups need to take the lead in spreading their insights.
“Corporates used to only want to collaborate with big startups. But now corporates want to talk to early-stage companies that might not even necessarily have a product,” Serguei Netessine, Timken Chaired Professor of global technology and innovation at INSEAD said at the Level3 launch.
Get in touch if you are pioneering the future in marketing and AdTech, enterprise tech (analytics, IoT, etc.), social impact, product and ingredient tech, or consumer insights. Level3 is perfect for those inventing new business models or making an impact through social entrepreneurship. Level3 is also where some of the most interesting startups with leading-edge technologies and business models come to work with the world’s biggest and most innovative companies.
Get in touch with Level3: firstname.lastname@example.org
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