Unilever forges partnerships with local startups

(The Philippine Star) - December 1, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The trouble with local startups is they have a lot of spark but no wind to fan the flame into a blaze.

So it’s a great thing that Unilever Philippines has launchedthe Unilever Foundry, a new platform that gives startup tech companies access to the consumer goods giant’s marketing expertise and the opportunity to pilot their technology if it proves workable and aligned with the company’s objectives.

The Foundry’s presence in the Philippines builds on the successes of its pilot in London last July. The Philippines will only be the second country in the world where Unilever would be acting as an incubator and accelerator for deserving startups.

“I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurs. I believe entrepreneurs have a lot of passion, a lot of energy and a lot of creativity because they have everything to lose. And so in today’s world, the startup represents such a force of innovativeness and creativity. And so it’s a great way for Unilever to tap into that ecosystem and create a much collaborative approach in the way we work,”Unilever senior vice president for Global Marketing Marc Mathieu said.

The Foundry was actually started two years ago when Unilever marketers discovered the energy of startup enterprises from across the globe, deciding eventually to bring in startups to work with several company projects.

Pleased with the results, the consumer goods giant decided to venture forth and tap the ideas of these small firms for its campaigns on sustainability and other technology solutions needs.

“It was both an exciting time for the startups and the marketers and so we decided to do it on a platform,” said Mathieu.“We were then working from startups from across continents.

One of the early stars of the Foundry initiative is Upworthy, a viral content site that features content on important and positive things in life. Unilever eventually partnered with the site developers for its Project Sunlight campaign that seeks to inspire positive and sustainable living.

Tech startups in the Philippines have two ways to get a piece of this action.

The first is by submitting a pitch to the Foundry website that contain briefs on the specific technological solutions needed by specific Unilever brands and its functional teams.

Another way is to submit your idea to Philippine-based incubator IdeaSpace Foundation and hope it receives an invitation from the Foundry.

Successful applicants would have a chance to have a paid pilot program with a Unilever brand. They will also undergo a three-month mentorship on marketingwith Unilever instructors to help them craft their brand vision, marketing strategy and product roadmap.

Unilever Philippines would be selecting six startup firms at a time for the three-month program which would occur for three quarters in a year.

Unilever could provide investment in startups that could become strategic to the growth of Unilever brands. One of the key areas of investment for Unilever is Digital Marketing that focuses on mobile marketing, media content creation, eCommerce, and big data.

For the launch of the Foundry in the Philippines, Unilever Philippines has tapped six startups that presented their projects to IdeaSpace.

These are: MyChild, a scheduling and messaging app that allows parents to monitor their child’s activities remotely; WattSmart, an online energy usage monitoring system that allows consumers to keep track of their energy consumption; Mobkard, an application that provides real-time alerts on promos and privileges from various merchants; Senti, a platform for analyzing brand growth through analysis of social media perception; Salt (Sustainable Alternative Lighting), a company that manufactures a cost-effective lamp powered by tap water and table salt; and Codnex, a data management company.

Mathieu says Unilever chose the Philippines as the second country to launch their platform because of the vibrant energy in the startup community and the huge market for such applications, particularly on digital applications.

“We push a lot on digital because it is now so pervasive that we reinvented our marketing to integrate both physical and digital approaches. Mobile data is now changing marketing at such a rapid pace,” he says.

In accepting companies into the mentoring program, Unilever is open to the possibility that not all of them may succeed in their enterprises.

“Among six startups, some may fail but one or two may really succeed and potentially will be one that we will fund with a pilot,” said Mathieu.

As a guide for aspiring startups, Mathieu advises them to think of solutions that answer a need.

“There are two things that matter: the idea and the people. Is the idea and the product really promising? Will the product stand the test of time?” he says. “They really have to do it in a unique and powerful way.”




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