Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Feb 14, 2017

Unilever levels up its startup game with collaborative space

22,000 square-foot 'Level3' workspace in Singapore HQ provides proximity to Unilever brands and Foundry programs.

Senior executives from Unilever, Padang & Co and Singapore Economic Development Board
Senior executives from Unilever, Padang & Co and Singapore Economic Development Board

Unilever Foundry has co-launched the Level3 collaborative workspace, together with an innovation catalyst company Padang & Co.

The Level3 name is a symbolic representation of large corporations and small startups taking their collaboration "to the next level", said Derrick Chiang, CEO of Padang & Co. That next level, specifically, is about creating an ecosystem where people solve problems together, focusing on marketing tech, adtech, enterprise tech, products and food ingredients, new business model innovations and social impact.

Built within the Unilever regional headquarters in Singapore, the 22,000-square-foot workspace provides proximity to Unilever brands and functions, and access to existing Unilever Foundry programmes.

Such a setup is, in fact, a global first for the British-Dutch consumer goods brand. 

To date, 15 startups have signed up to establish themselves in-house at Level3, including AdludioConnectedLifeDatacraftEcoHubGetCRAFTNext BillionOlapicSnapcartTaskSpotting and Try and Review, of which some are already Unilever Foundry members working on brand briefs.

For these startups, because Singapore does not offer a single big captive market like China, partnering with multinational corporations like Unilever is a springboard to scale and build more successful businesses, commented Serguei Netessine, the Timken Chaired Professor of Global Technology and Innovation at INSEAD and research director at the INSEAD-Wharton alliance.

"In the past, even if large corporates are working together with startups, they want to talk to only large-enough startups," Netessine said at the launch event this morning. "Nowadays, corporates are willing to talk to very early-stage startups."

For Unilever, such physical proximity offers "a direct connection with disruptive technologies and changemakers to shape the way we work,” added Pier Luigi Sigismondi, president for Southeast Asia and Australasia at Unilever.

To Singapore, Level3 represents an "emerging corporate innovation model, " said Dr Beh Swan Gin, chairman of Singapore Economic Development Board, which is aligned with EDB’s efforts.

More than just a co-working space, the FMCG giant described Level3 as melding a physical space with fireside chats, trend briefings, mentoring sessions and so on to form part of an entire ecosystem, said Barbara Guerpillon, global marketing manager for SEAA at Unilever Foundry.
 
Of the 15, startups such as Adludio (a programmatic sensory advertising platform that uses 3D, haptic, gyro, touch mobile technologies to optimise campaigns) or Snapcart (real-time shopper engagement mobile application that offers cash to users who upload their shopping receipts onto a cloud-based data platform where clients can access to gather consumer spending and shopping data) benefit Unilever directly.
 
It’s not the technologies per se that interest the company to set this up, according to Paul Polman, global CEO of Unilever, but the adoption of such technologies among FMCG consumers that changes its business models.
 
"For traditional companies like us, in the past we can innovate at least once in a few years; now if we don’t do that within a six- to 12-month period we will be toast," Polman said. "This is transformational because it’s the first time we are doing this, and the first time we link this with our own company units. Being able to be so close together and openly interfacing with one another will result in tremendous results."

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