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The future of innovation: startups and corporates to work under one roof by 2025

  • 80% of corporates believe that startups can have a positive impact on a large company’s approach to innovation
  • 46% of startups who have not worked with corporates are likely to do so in the future
  • 89% of startups believe they’re able to deliver business solutions which can scale

Cologne – Unilever Foundry launches global study into corporate and startup collaboration at Dmexco today

Unilever Foundry State of Innovation graphic

Unilever Foundry, a global platform for startups and innovators to engage and collaborate, predicts corporates and startups will form the ultimate partnership, working side by side in the same physical space by 2025, seeking greater proximity for innovation as they evolve to meet changing consumer needs.

‘The State of Innovation’, a global study and white paper from Unilever Foundry, was launched today at Dmexco by Unilever EVP Global Marketing, Aline Santos. The report looks at how the relationship between corporates and startups will continue to evolve. The white paper identifies three predictions on how the industry will change over the next decade.

Aline Santos, Unilever EVP Global Marketing, said: “Collaboration can no longer be viewed as an optional extra, it’s a strategic imperative. Startups are now widely recognised as invaluable sources of innovation, fueling growth and providing pioneering business solutions.

“The State of Innovation report reveals the appetite for collaboration between corporates and startups and signals a shift in the models adopted for future partnerships. As the Unilever Foundry continues its journey looking for exciting new partnerships, we are continually learning to ensure our future collaborations are effective as possible.”

Key findings from The State of Innovation:

Startups and corporates to work side by side in the same office by 2025

As the pace of change increases, corporations know that to meet evolving consumer needs they need to look for the right partners to innovate and build relationships with.

With 90% of corporates already working with a startup expecting to continue to do so, Unilever Foundry predicts physical shared working spaces will become commonplace to facilitate growth and break down barriers to collaboration. The research reveals the three most important reasons for working together: learning something new (startups 88%/corporates 85%); improving efficiency (startups 81%/corporates 81%); and solving business problems in new ways that can scale (startups 89%/corporates 80%).

The future of corporate and startup innovation: a short-term boom in "tech tourism" but structured programmes emerging as the long-term winter

After an initial rise in “tech tourism” – shorter term activity ranging from trips to tech HQs to less formal partnerships – a longer-term model will win out. While 83% of startups value the publicity from these short-term models, 80% of corporates believe that startups can have a positive impact on large companies’ approaches to innovation. As a result, Unilever Foundry predicts that large businesses will become more willing to invest in structured programmes as companies choose meaningful partnerships over PR-driven quick fixes. One startup described their experience with tech tourism models saying:

“At the low end of the spectrum is tech tourism: a brand shows up in Silicon Valley, rides the Google slide, meets a couple of startups – at best it's inspirational but basically it's a waste of time. […] Startups want meaningful new initiatives and uses of technology.”

Startup and corporate collaboration will evolve from an optional extra to a business–critical investment in the next five years

In order to keep up with the accelerating rate of innovation in business, Unilever Foundry predicts that startup collaboration will become a necessity for corporates over the next five years, with around four out of five corporates (79%) and startups (78%) anticipating more collaborative work in the future. Startups believe they are up to the task, with almost nine in ten (89%) claiming they’re able to deliver business solutions which can scale. Visit for more information and to read “The State of Innovation” white paper.

Media Contacts

Notes to editors

The in-depth research was conducted with over 200 brand managers and heads of innovation and over 100 startup founders and directors across India, Singapore, United Kingdom and United States.

About Unilever Foundry

Already looking to the future and embracing this transformative way of working, Unilever Foundry has been an entry point for innovative tech companies to connect with Unilever brands for over three years. In this time, the global innovation platform has helped scale up 48% of over 100 pilots including partnerships with Quiqup and Playbrush in the last year. Unilever Foundry has also launched partnerships with two co-working spaces – LEVEL3 in Singapore with Padang & Co and Unilever Foundry Ireland with Dogpatch Labs, bringing startups and Unilever brands under one roof.

Unilever Foundry case studies

Hellmann’s and Quiqup

  • Global dressings brand, Hellmann’s, partnered with on-demand delivery startup Quiqup to deliver fresh ingredients to consumers at the click of a finger
  • Through the Unilever Foundry, Hellmann’s put out a brief looking for tech solutions to help the brand further engage with a digitally savvy millennial audience
  • Following the platform’s unique pitch-pilot-partner process, Quiqup was identified as the ideal solution to directly engage with a new audience through a new business model

Next Billion

  • Last year, Unilever Foundry joined forces with Singapore-based startup Next Billion to launch Mobile Movies in Bangladesh, in which networks of local agents organise free film screenings for communities in rural areas with the aim of increasing awareness of good hygiene practices.
  • To date, 15 female entrepreneurs have been engaged as agents, over 700 presentations have been delivered. Over the 12 week-trial, more than 30,000 locals were engaged, and 15,000 samples of Unilever’s health soap brand Lifebuoy and Pepsodent toothpastes were distributed.
  • This partnership is an exemplary example of a disruptive innovation that takes us a step closer toward our ambition of making sustainable living commonplace

Chef Wendy

  • Knorr partnered with AI specialists Digital Genius to reach consumers in emerging countries such as India
  • The Chef Wendy pilot was a fully automated chef to give recipe suggestions via SMS
  • This was two or three years before AI and Chatbots became commonplace

Signal and Playbrush

  • Unilever partnered the Signal brand with startup Playbrush, to revolutionise children’s oral health through gamification
  • Unilever’s R&D team were able to embrace experimentation and explore an entirely new route. This allowed Unilever to extend its brands outside of just being a product on a supermarket shelf

Safe Harbour

This announcement may contain forward-looking statements, including ‘forward-looking statements’ within the meaning of the United States Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Words such as ‘will’, ‘aim’, ‘expects’, ‘anticipates’, ‘intends’, ‘looks’, ‘believes’, ‘vision’, or the negative of these terms and other similar expressions of future performance or results, and their negatives, are intended to identify such forward-looking statements. These forward-looking statements are based upon current expectations and assumptions regarding anticipated developments and other factors affecting the Unilever Group (the “Group”). They are not historical facts, nor are they guarantees of future performance.

Because these forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties, there are important factors that could cause actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements. Among other risks and uncertainties, the material or principal factors which could cause actual results to differ materially are: Unilever's global brands not meeting consumer preferences; Unilever's ability to innovate and remain competitive; Unilever's investment choices in its portfolio management; inability to find sustainable solutions to support long-term growth; customer relationships; the recruitment and retention of talented employees; disruptions in our supply chain; the cost of raw materials and commodities; the production of safe and high quality products; secure and reliable IT infrastructure; successful execution of acquisitions, divestitures and business transformation projects; economic and political risks and natural disasters; the effect of climate change on Unilever's business; financial risks; failure to meet high and ethical standards; and managing regulatory, tax and legal matters. These forward-looking statements speak only as of the date of this announcement. Except as required by any applicable law or regulation, the Group expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statements contained herein to reflect any change in the Group's expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any such statement is based. Further details of potential risks and uncertainties affecting the Group are described in the Group's filings with the London Stock Exchange, Euronext Amsterdam and the US Securities and Exchange Commission, including in the Annual Report on Form 20-F 2016 and the Unilever Annual Report and Accounts 2016.

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