David Blecken
Mar 31, 2015

Unilever and Cannes Lions embark on hunt for industry-changing startups

GLOBAL - Unilever has partnered with Lions Innovation for an initiative to identify the world’s top 50 marketing technology startups.

Mathieu: marketing must be prepared to
Mathieu: marketing must be prepared to "embrace the outside"

The ‘Foundry 50 at Cannes’ is a search for startup companies that are “innovating to help brands better connect, engage and relate with people”, according to a statement from the organisers.

A panel of leading industry figures will choose the 50 startups, which will then receive tickets to the inaugural Lions Innovation, which runs between 25 and 26 June. The event centres on data, technology and ideas.

Panelists will include Marc Mathieu, SVP of global marketing for Unilever; Olivier Garel, head of Unilever Ventures; Brent Hoberman, co-founder of Founders Forum; Rob Demblitz, head of Lions Innovation; Rose Lewis, co-founder of Collider, a startup accelerator; and Caitlin Ryan, group ECD of Karmarama.

The statement stipulates that to be chosen, startups must meet the following criteria:

  • Be innovative and truly disruptive, clearly differentiated from competitors already in the market
  • Be relevant and interesting to the brand and marketing industry
  • Have been incorporated within the last five years
  • Have raised less than US$10 million in equity funding

At Cannes, the selected startups will be able to pitch on Unilever’s platform, interact with industry leaders in a ‘speed-dating’ format, and gain introduction to organisations attending the event. Philip Thomas, CEO, of Cannes Lions, said in the statement that the Foundry 50 “is dedicated to kick-starting relationships … that we believe will be instrumental to the future of the industry”.

In an interview with Campaign Asia-Pacific, Mathieu said he saw “real appetite from the marketing community” for such an initiative. Unilever launched The Foundry officially last year with a view to building closer ties with startups.

“This is the right time to further embrace the cause of startups and support them in their journey, not just partnering with Unilever but the whole industry and helping startups scale up within the world of marketing. Cannes is the perfect opportunity to really support the cause of the startup community.”

Mathieu said he was attracted to the emphasis of Lions Innovation on fusing data and ideas. He said technology now enabled marketers to treat consumers as individuals as opposed to a mass, and that startups could help develop that potential.

“There are clearly some startups that enable us to de-average the way we’ve been doing marketing … We’re moving from a tell model to a share model and I think startups have the ability to help us do this.”

At the same time, although not all startups are necessarily ‘disruptive’, Mathieu admitted that accepting new ways of working was still a challenge for large organisations. “Most people will not necessarily welcome change because it questions their own ability,” he said.

“That’s why we believe it’s important, and at Cannes, this is our way to tell the industry that these are the challenges we need to embrace and [encourage people] to embrace the outside. Marketers in general do not welcome disruption, but the pace is such that ‘change or be changed’ becomes the mantra of today. This [initiative] brings in people who are much more tech-native.”

Mathieu cited one example of a startup Unilever had worked with for its Knorr brand that used artificial intelligence to develop a technology that suggested recipe ideas based on the ingredients in the consumer's refrigerator. He said startups had come a long way in terms of status within the marketing community in recent years.

“What I feel excited about is that I’m seeing startups moving from being on the fringe to being much more present at the front and centre,” he said. “Three or four years ago [at Cannes] I remember the CEO of a [now successful] startup who was there almost by himself. [The Foundry 50] is a great show of how Cannes has recognised that startups have a role to play in changing the industry.”


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