At Crowdfooding, we strongly believe that collaboration between startups and established organisations is the best way forward, when it comes to bring impactful innovation to scale.
And it looks like we are not the only ones to think so. According to a recent report by Unilever Foundry, the FMCG giant’s ‘collaborative’ platform for startups and innovators, by 2025, startups and corporates will be located under the same roof, and work hand-in-hand on a daily basis to better address consumer needs.
To take that statement even further, we decided to put our futuristic glasses on, and try to imagine what this collaborative space could (and should) really look like…
So let’s set up the scene. The tech giant Hooli (the fictional company pictured in the HBO TV show Silicon Valley), following the path of their main competitor, Amazon, who have acquired WholeFoods back in 2017, decided to enter the food retail space as well. We are now in 2025, Hooli went even further by also acquiring a number of food brands over the years, and has now 10,000 employees dedicated to growing ‘HooliFood’ business to a point that it is becoming a serious threat for the likes of Nestle & Unilever of this world.
Their secret sauce? They see startups as a key pillar of their growth plans and treat them as strategic partners to make waves in the food industry.
Their selection criteria for engaging with startups? INNOVATION, IMPACT, SUSTAINABILITY & PURPOSE
From its very beginning, Hooli Food has been actively collaborating with startups by welcoming them into their own office space, free of charge. From early stage businesses to scale-ups, every company is welcome into Holli’s ‘coworking’. Well, almost everyone…The waiting list is long but HooliFood’s folks make their selection on only a few criteria: companies making a product or service that is innovative, sustainable and driven by a common purpose; having a positive impact on the global food system.
Although HooliFood has been investing and acquiring quite a few ‘resident’ startups over the years, gaining equity stakes of these business is not a strict requirement to access their office space. The mutual benefits are actually much bigger than that: access to knowledge and talent.
Collaboration starts by removing physical barriers
Entrepreneurs and Hooli Food’s employees seat amongst each other, with no distinctions, and have access to the same perks. The aim is to facilitate constant interactions between the ‘two worlds’ and foster cultural change within the organisation. Indeed, by interacting with entrepreneurs almost on a daily basis, Hooli Food’s employees understand what they are going through, and get a grasp of the entrepreneurial approach and ‘lean startup’ thinking that can be applied to their own job.
As for entrepreneurs, having direct access to people with solid expertise and knowledge of the industry dynamics, allow them to gather valuable inputs before making important business decisions. Not to mention they have access to top-notch labs, professional kitchens & other facilities to prototype new products and bring their ideas to life, with very limited financial burden.
Not just an open space but a structured win-win collaborative platform
More than just letting it happen, Hooli Food has put in place a series of programs to make these collaborations as impactful as possible. While each of their employee is given the opportunity to allocate some of their time to ‘mentor’ a startup and offer their extensive expertise and industry knowledge, they are also encouraged to learn from entrepreneurs and can be hired as ‘interns’ for an extended period of time as part of their training.
For any specific need, Hooli Food has also developed its own internal ‘open innovation platform’ to allow both startups and their employees to post briefs online, for a quick access to expertise.
Last but not least, ‘Pitching hours’ are taking place on a weekly basis: entrepreneurs can practice their investors pitch in front of a wide and knowledgeable audience. Vice-versa, any Hooli Food’s employee can present their new developments to an audience of young entrepreneurs who are often time in a better position to capture consumers’ needs and turn them into meaningful products, and who won’t hesitate to provide their brutally honest feedback to Hooli Food’s executives…think of a sort of a reversed Dragons’s Den 🙂
From employees to ‘intrapreneurship’ evangelists
Going even further, Hooli Food wants to empower its employees to become real ‘intrapreneurs’: whoever comes up with a valid idea, can get up to 1 year of paid salary to work full time on their new venture! And if they fail, that’s fine too…as a company, they indeed ‘value’ the importance of failing to keep their pioneering position in the market. At least now they can proud themselves to be a leading organisation that understands the value of partnering up with smaller companies to keep challenging their people, create better products and therefore be more competitive in the long haul…
So, is this whole little fairy tail a completely utopic vision? Who knows…As fictional as this whole story may sound, at Crowdfooding we believe in last decade there have been some pretty strong signals that suggest a new ‘way’ of building business is on the rise, where ‘openness’ and collaboration are key pillars to drive innovation. To this end, we’ll be doing a major announcement next month to make this vision a step closer to become reality. Keep your eyes peeled for more news!
Meanwhile, you can learn more about Crowdfooding at www.crowdfooding.co
Co-author of this piece is Alessio D’Antino, Founder & CEO at Crowdfooding