Unilever Foundry launches coworking space in Singapore
By Zafar Anjum February 15, 2017
- The 22,000 sq ft workspace opened with 15 international and local startups
- LEVEL3 is a first of its kind effort by Unilever Foundry anywhere in the world
GIVING an open call to all the startups in the world, including the ones in Southeast Asia, Unilever Foundry and Padang & Co on Feb 14 launched LEVEL3, a coworking space that brings together Unilever, startups, and entrepreneurs to encourage innovation and create new partnerships that deliver real and meaningful business impact.
According to Jonathan Hammond, global head of Unilever Foundry, Unilever Foundry is the platform for Unilever’s more than 400 brands to collaborate and partner with startups that are innovating in “new ways to communicate with consumers, new ways to understand consumers and (are creating) new business models”.
It provides startups and entrepreneurs the opportunity to develop and work on global projects, access mentoring from marketing professionals, and tap into funding through Unilever Ventures.
Unilever Foundry was founded in 2014 and it was launched in Singapore in November 2015.
“Ideas and innovations come from everywhere, and not just within four walls of Unilever. It is really important for us that we continuously be looking for partners that can help us,” he said. “What we have now is LEVEL3 which is a physical manifestation of Unilever Foundry.”
Built within the Unilever regional headquarters in Singapore, the 22,000 sq ft workspace opened with 15 international and local startups, including Adludio, ConnectedLife, Datacraft, EcoHub, GetCRAFT, Next Billion, Olapic, Snapcart, TaskSpotting and Try and Review.
According to Hammond, the co-working space is called LEVEL3 because “it is a destination that brings together Unilever, Padang & Co and startups”. The coworking space is connected to Unilever’s offices through a staircase, enabling closer working partnership between the startups and the corporate.
Through LEVEL3, Unilever is looking for startups to partner with and grow together, he added.
First of its kind
This is a first of its kind effort by Unilever Foundry anywhere in the world. “We couldn’t think of a better location than Singapore. It is the gateway to Southeast Asia,” Hammond said. “It has 4.2 billion consumers within (a radius of) a six-hour flight and the region has almost four million consumers coming online every month. So, it is a huge opportunity there.”
“The set-up of LEVEL3 in Singapore – a global first for Unilever – is a strong testament to the growing vibrancy of Singapore’s startup ecosystem,” said Dr Beh Swan Gin (pic, right), chairman, Singapore Economic Development Board, who was present at the facility’s inauguration along with Paul Polman, CEO, of Unilever.
“LEVEL3 represents an emerging corporate innovation model that is aligned with EDB’s efforts to encourage collaborations between multinational companies and other enterprises such as startups.”
Innovation at Unilever
The world’s third largest consumer goods company by revenues, Unilever is a British-Dutch multinational consumer goods company co-headquartered in Rotterdam, Netherlands, and London, United Kingdom.
Unilever is over 100-years-old and the Foundry is not the only innovative part of the company, said Hammond. The company was innovation-driven and it needed to innovate since the its early days of making Sunlight soaps. “But the Unilever Foundry was built as technology barriers come down and there was really growth in the number of startups. So, we needed to have a platform to engage with the outside talent community.”
Hammond said that before founding of LEVEL3, Unilever Foundry had already done about 100 pilot projects with startups and almost half of them have been scaled up.
A new model of collaboration
The plan is to host at least about 50 startups in LEVEL3, said Derrick Chiang (pic, right), CEO, Padang & Co. At LEVEL3, startups will have access to the existing Unilever Foundry programmes, and an opportunity to solve specific business problems faced by Unilever’s teams, said Chiang.
LEVEL3 offers a network of entrepreneurs who will share their industry expertise through fireside chats, events and mentoring.
Singapore-based Padang & Co is an innovation catalyst for corporates and government agencies, helping startups and corporates such as Unilever connect and create new opportunities for innovation. It is the architect of LEVEL3 and will be designing the programmes and managing the space.
At LEVEL3, three types of space are available for startups and companies: hot desk (US$400/month per person), personal desk (US$650/month per person), and Team Suite (US$3,000/month for four people, and US$4,500/month for six people). It also offers Community membership for US$50/month per person that facilitates connections with mentors, access to exclusive events, network and co-work and other benefits.
As far as the selection of startups are concerned for LEVEL3, it focuses on the following areas, said Chiang: Marketing Tech & Ad Tech, Enterprise Tech, Products & Ingredients, New Business Model Innovation and Social Impact.
Hammond added that startups that get accommodated at LEVEL3 do not automatically qualify for funds from 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 key areas of investment for Unilever Ventures is Digital Marketing, encompassing marketing services business with a focus on mobile marketing, digital media and video, social media, content creation, eCommerce, shopper marketing and big data.
Some of the startups that have found a place at LEVEL3 are looking for expansion in the Southeast Asia region. For example, British company Adludio, which has a proprietary sensory advertising technology LEVEL3 to be “the perfect workspace” as we look into scaling and building our sensory advertising business across Southeast Asia, said its CEO Paul Coggins.
Similarly, GetCRAFT, a platform to source talents such as writers and videographers for communication jobs, has worked with with Unilever in markets such as Indonesia and Philippines. “As such, having a presence at LEVEL3 became the next logical step for us as it allows us to closely innovate together with its proximity to their regional headquarters, thus further strengthening our partnership,” said Patrick Searle, its co-founder & group CEO.
(Zafar Anjum is DNA's Contributing Editor in Singapore)