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Unilever and Starcom cry out for startup innovation

Agency and brand leaders, from Unilever to Starcom Mediavest, have taken to the stage at the inaugural The Next Big Thing conference in London crying out for the kinds of innovation being delivered by startups.

Jim Kite, strategic development director at Starcom Mediavest, said: “The future of our business is in forming new partnerships.”

While Unilever CMO Keith Weed said that startups help his company: “deliver the right tech and right investment into our brands right now.”

Unilever has unveiled a $50,000 investment in The Next Big Thing startup competition, delivered via its Foundry programme, in collaboration with ad:tech London and Shoreditch’s Collider accelerator.

There will be 15 startups shortlisted in the competition, with the final taking place in October, where companies will pitch to brands and agencies for the chance to win £5,000, exhibition space and access to Unilever’s marketplace.

At The Next Big Thing, Nicole Yershon, who heads up internal R&D facility Ogilvy Labs, explained that it’s often difficult to get buy in across the organisation for innovation when it doesn’t appear “mission critical”.

At MEC, innovation director Hannah Blake explained, they incentivise staff to go out and create partnerships with startups. “We have to reward people for going out on a limb,” she said.

Startups, including video collaboration platform seenit and brand sampling firm SoPost, said the timelines corporates work to are often far too long and that it’s not always clear who the right person is to speak to at a brand or agency.

Kite said Starcom Mediavest is very aware that “we’ve got to make sure startups get paid”, highlighting that it can even be a struggle to get a startup on a corporate’s billing system.

As strategic development director, he said he’d had: “more involvement with legal contracts in dealing with startups than across my entire career.”

A digital startup observer in the audience, whose company was bought by a bigger firm, added: “You’re only likely to get a £5,000 test budget from an agency if you’re a startup.

“And when you get bought like we did, the agencies will no longer talk to you because ‘you’re not a startup anymore’.”