Five brands collaborating with startups to foster innovation

Every week, we bring you the FreshMinds Friday picks – ideas to help you make the most of digital technologies and understand how they are helping brands to grow and innovate. Last week, we discussed why banks need to behave more like startups so in this week’s Friday picks we’re looking at five corporates who are trying to do just that by working more closely with startup businesses.

John Lewis

In March 2014, the retail giant launched JLAB, an initiative giving innovative startups the chance to become John Lewis suppliers. Startups were invited to submit ideas under 4 key categories – Knowing Each Other, Helping Customers Shop, Simplifying Customers’ Lives and Surprise Us – with the best 5 having received £12,500 to develop their inventions alongside market specialists from John Lewis. The winner, to be announced at the end of September, will be the recipient of a £100, 000 investment. But John Lewis will reap the rewards too, having invested in products to meet customer needs (contender Musaic supplies a wireless sound system for the modern home) as well as technology to improve the customer experience (another finalist, Tap2Connect, harnesses iBeacons and NFC tags to help brands engage with their customers).


In September 2013, the supermarket provided substantial financial backing for London’s Rainmaking Loft; a technology incubator for startups and digital entrepreneurs. The Rainmaking Loft project has been responsible for range of successful innovations including an app to track skier’s performance and Viewsy, a gadget which tracks customers’ movement around stores through their mobile phone signals. Mats Stigzelius, co-founder of Rainmaking Loft says that although Tesco may not directly benefit from its investment in the incubator, it could help the Rainmaking Loft to get closer to the startup community and harness them to solve business challenges.


It’s not just retailers looking to collaborate with startups. Barclays is getting in on the act too. As part of its search to find businesses to join its accelerator programme, the bank has partnered with SETsquared, an organisation which specialises in growing startups. Taking Barclays key needs as a starting point, the two organisations worked together to select 6 companies, who were each given the chance to pitch to Barclay’s executives. The partnership is part of SETsquared’s Open Innovation programme, which aims to match starts up with corporate companies. The scheme is mutually beneficial. Not only are startups given the once in a lifetime opportunity to pitch to global businesses but it helps corporates access new technologies and innovations. Adrian Cottington, Director in Global Technology and Infrastructure Services at Barclays says:

“it has given …[the bank] the opportunity to access to a pool of cherry-picked talent, all in one place … [we are] looking forward to talking further with the companies.”


For the past 6 years, BBVA has been running an annual startup competition called BBVA Open Talent aimed at supporting the development of innovative tech-based projects. This year’s competition saw 870 entries in two categories New Banking and Digital Life, which have been whittled down to 60 finalists. The winners, who will be announced in November, will receive a cash prize, a Crash Acceleration course in New York as well as the opportunity to set up a joint project with BBVA. In this respect, the competition is extremely beneficial to BBVA, helping them develop innovative digital products and services and establish a competitive edge internationally.


Unilever is ramping up its efforts to work with startups, having launched the Unilever Foundry in May 2014. The Foundry will provide promising marketing startups specialising in the fields of digital, content, social and mobile three opportunities to partner with Unilever:  a mentoring scheme, investment in their business and the chance to respond to pitches put out by Unilever. Unilever hopes that working with startups in this way will help the company stay abreast of the latest developments and innovations in marketing.