Consumer goods giant Unilever has launched a new platform to help it engage with innovative start-ups.

The multinational, which sells in 190 countries and holds 14 brands in the £1 billion club, launched The Unilever Foundry last week in a bid to attract start-ups with an established technology, rather than those at incubator stage.

Keith Weed, Unilever chief marketing and communications officer, said: "Although we have been working with start-ups for years, we now want to scale up our efforts and, ultimately, embed this as a way of working throughout our organisation.

"We strive to be at the forefront of marketing and media innovation; to have our brands engage in the most creative, efficient and effective ways with the people we serve."

Start-up mentorship

Through The Unilever Foundry, the company said its mentors will work with start-ups and entrepreneurs over a three-month period to help them shape their brand vision, marketing strategy and product roadmap.

At the same time, Unilever said the initiative will enable its brands to experiment with and pilot new technologies more efficiently, effectively and speedily.

The firm said it will invite start-ups in The Unilever Foundry to pitch to their technologies to Unilever executives looking for technologies that will enable them to to roll-out new programmes.

Unilever said the "pitch-to-pilot" process will enable it to put experimentation at the heart of the marketing function, allowing new technologies to be piloted and new partnerships to be cultivated.

Marc Mathieu, Unilever SVP of global marketing, added: "The Unilever Foundry will be our single our platform to harness, nurture and evolve thousands of innovative ideas from the entrepreneurial community. It will simplify the way in which small start-ups and entrepreneurs engage with a company of our size, offering an exciting opportunity for the best and brightest to pilot their technology with us."

Venture funding

The Foundry will work closely with Unilever Ventures, the Venture capital arm of Unilever.

Unilever Ventures invests in early stage companies that could become strategically relevant to Unilever and can benefit from access to Unilever's assets and capabilities.

One of the investment focus areas for Unilever Ventures is 'digital marketing'; and it has already made several investments in this space, including Brain Juicer, Yummly and Brandtone.

Olivier Garel, head of Unilever Ventures, said: "Through The Unilever Foundry, we hope to make more start-ups aware of this opportunity to receive investment from the world's second largest advertiser. In combining our business and marketing knowledge with the expertise available in venture capital through The Unilever Foundry, we are in a position to provide the best of both worlds."

Several other companies have created their own platforms to engage with start-ups, including Barclays, Tesco and John Lewis.