What can big business learn from start-ups?

This is the first on a series of posts about Collider, a "business to brand accelerator" that I'm investing in this year. Here, I look at the potential benefits to the big companies who are part of the program, including Unilever, Diageo, Haymarket and Camelot.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.18.50
Collider works by "mobilising a pot of cash, a crack team of coaches, and an intensive four month programme to help startups become sustainable businesses". All the nine startups are "building disruptive products and services that enable brands to better engage, understand and sell to their consumers". As an investor you get a little bit of each start-up, spreading your risk. You also get to coach and mentor the start-ups that take your fancy; more on these in future posts.

A key feature of Collider is the links created between the start-ups and the brands of the partner companies. The start-ups get to collaborate with brands and pilot their products, creating cracking case studies. The big companies get to learn from the start-ups.

In the case of Unilever, Collider is part of "The Foundry", a collaborative program that connects the company with innovative technology companies who can help them achieve their brand and business ambitions.  Unilever global media director Alper Eroglu talked about what Unilever got out of The Foundry at recent Marketing Agencies Association (MAA) conference, as detailed here.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.47.52
1. Launch now, scale later

Alper explained that the mindset for The Foundry was to see "how can we get an idea into the market place in the shortest time possible, and then we deal with scaling it later." He went on to say that this was about adopting "a little bit of start-up mentality, about reiterations; you launch something, and then you improve it." This is exactly how we try to get companies to work on projects using our "Rocketing" approach to innovation, by bringing to life ideas and learning from doing. This is a challenge for big companies. As Alper says, "At Unilever this is difficult, because we don’t work like that. Everything needs to be proved to the last point." 

2. Find the digital "sweet spot"

It was encouraging to hear Alper talk about Unilever's brands looking for a "sweet spot" from innovation where it helped consumers as well as driving profit. This is refreshing, given the hype and hysteria about social media and brands' desire to "connect" with consumers, where the true value of this is not obvious, and the link to profit is often missing all together. The bigger opportunity for many brands is not social media, but how to digitally empower the core business. For example, a smartphone app for Magnum enables you to locate the nearest stockist.

He describes the sweet spot as being where you:

– Fix consumers problems

– Give them added value

– Create a business opportunity

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.41.36
3. Motivating the marketing team

I guess that many university graduates are attracted by the idea of working for tech companies like Google, Facebook and the like, create new competition for Unilever and other FMCG companies in the war for talent. So, an additional benefit to Unilever from Collider is the ability to offer new, young marketers the chance to collaborate with tech start-ups. 

Watch this space for more updates on the Collider program and the tech start-ups who are on it.