Preview case

Click Preview case to review the first page of this case

Main case

Unilever Foundry

By Julian Birkinshaw, Shahnoor Meghani


This case focuses on the Unilever Foundry, a platform for Unilever to engage with start-ups and entrepreneurs, providing them with access to Unilever’s brands as a means of enabling their growth while bringing innovative technology back to the company. The case provides a brief description of Unilever’s evolution from the mid-1990s to 2016, focusing on its various attempts to make the business more innovative and agile. With the arrival of Paul Polman as CEO and his “sustainable living plan”, the impetus to innovate was once again very high and a number of initiatives were launched to help the company move beyond its traditional ways of working. In May 2014 the Foundry was launched to create commercial opportunities by connecting Unilever businesses with start-ups. Through a licensing mechanism, the start-up would make its technology available to Unilever to bring innovation to its brand or get the rights to use a Unilever brand within certain guidelines. The Foundry was essentially a platform for collaboration. The case explores how the Foundry functioned and evolved both within Unilever and in the collaborations with external start-ups. By December 2015 its leader, Jeremy Basset, had a team of seven people and operated in several locations across the world. The case closes with various issues facing Jeremy – whether to raise greater awareness of the Foundry within Unilever; how to scale it to make a difference within the huge organisation that was Unilever; and ultimately, where to go from here?

Learning objectives

  1. Provide insight into how large, established companies are trying to become more innovative and agile – and why they often struggle.
  2. Describe the pros and cons of different ‘vehicles’ for innovation, including stage-gate processes, corporate venturing units, and acquisitions of start-ups.
  3. Provide detailed insight into Unilever’s new way of working with start-ups, called the Foundry, and a discussion of the pros and cons of this model.
  4. Understand how a corporate entrepreneur seeks to get things done – their tactics and the challenges they face.


Publication Date: January 2016
LBS Case Code: CS-18-015
Subjects: , , ,
Pages: 16
Format: pdf