The Unilever Foundry initiative, which builds on the firm's existing Go Global partnership programme, offers a three-stage process for start-ups seeking to unite their technical innovations with a Unilever brand, Marketing Week reported.
Start-ups with existing technology solutions will be able to pitch collaborative projects and, if successful, receive mentoring support from an 80-strong Unilever marketing team for up to three months plus the opportunity to get a $50,000 investment.
If Unilever sees merit in developing a project further, start-ups could then apply for further funding through Unilever Ventures, explained Marc Mathieu, the company's senior vice-president of global marketing.
Although Unilever has been working with start-ups for a number of years, Mathieu said it needed to gain earlier access to new technologies and developments in the marketing industry – as Facebook and Google have been doing for about ten years.
Keith Weed, Unilever's chief marketing and communications officer, said it wanted to meet the "future movers and shakers" while also using the programme to engage and add value for consumers, Fast Company reported.
"We're committed to this as a way of getting to ideas and innovation but also as a way of bringing more action-oriented thinking and dynamism into the company," he said, adding that Unilever believes it has a responsibility to use its scale and expertise "to pioneer the future".
The company has had some success with its investments in start-ups, including mobile marketing agency Brandtone and market research consultancy BrainJuicer.
And it recently teamed up with music-streaming app Songza to develop a campaign for Hellmann's, a Unilever-owned mayonnaise brand, that Mathieu said produced "very positive results".
Data sourced from Marketing Week, Fast Company; additional content by Warc staff