Unilever rolls out ‘want summits’ to identify the next big idea

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Open innovation Drink innovation network Innovation Collaboration Unilever

Unilever helped finance an ultra high-energy mixer at the University of Liverpool
Unilever helped finance an ultra high-energy mixer at the University of Liverpool
Unilever is aiming to complete ‘want summits’ in which staff identify a wish-list of technologies and desires across all of its key categories by the end of the year as it ramps up its open innovation activities.

Roger Leech, open innovation portfolio and scouting director at Unilever, said project leaders at a recent want summit for skincare had identified 130 wants. These had subsequently been whittled down to 12.

Once key wants had been identified, the business would then look to see if it had the capabilities to deliver them in-house, he said.

If not, it would seek assistance from external partners to help it commercialise bigger, better ideas more quickly, said Leech, who was speaking at the Food and Drink Innovation Network’s Open Innovation conference last week.

Open innovation worked in many different ways at Unilever, said Leech, who cited examples of tie ups with PepsiCo on canned drinks, Martek on ice cream and the Centre for Materials Discovery at the University of Liverpool on emulsions.

Unilever also has a ventures arm that invests in businesses with exciting technologies, said Leech, who heads up a ‘virtual’ global innovation team that splits its time across all six of Unilever's research and development centres in Shanghai, the Netherlands, India, the USA and the UK (Colworth and Port Sunlight).

Scouting for innovation

Open innovation scouts also played a growing role in helping project leaders find companies, academic centres or consultants to help develop solutions to R&D challenges, he said.

In 2010 alone, scouts had identified more than 50 potential collaborations with external partners, 14 of which had resulted in contract action from internal project teams.

Firms keen to find out more about how to collaborate with Unilever can click here​ or email bcra.vaabingvba@havyrire.pbz

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