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BW Businessworld

How Nestlé Is Participating In The Startup Ecosystem

In a bid to bring disruptive tech and innovation in house, Nestlé India has opened up its channels to collaborate and work with startups to solve business and brand problems

Photo Credit : Sanjay Sakaria


In line with its global ambition to be the number one fast-moving consumer goods company to leverage digital and collaborate to enhance life, build great brands and achieve accelerated profitable growth, Nestlé India has articulated a culture that will assist it in that journey. The three tenets of the culture are internal innovation, external innovation and open innovation. Working with startups forms a core part of the latter two.

Internal innovation at Nestlé India manifests in its Digital Acceleration Team or DAT that manages training programmes to ‘digitise’ Nestlé’s talent and its approach. Consumer engagement is also part of this. External innovation found place in the company in 2014, with the inception of the Silicon Valley Innovation Outpost, dubbed the India Innovation Outpost in the country. The core role of this endeavour is to connect brands and businesses to startups.

“Technology is disrupting businesses all around us. Much of this is coming from startups. But to participate in that environment, an organisation’s culture must be geared up to embrace it. It is evident that there are brand and business problems that startups and innovators can solve. We want to participate in this growing ecosystem,” says Chandrasekar Radhakrishnan, the head of communications & e-commerce at Nestlé India.

The India Innovation Outpost has undertaken several projects in this direction. One of them is the much talked about Nestlé’s Google Cardboard project, where Nescafé Labs partnered with MTV, to use virtual reality for consumers to peep-in and have a real life experience of what Nestle is doing.

Open Innovation
The spirit of collaboration is evident in open innovation. Under this type of innovation, Nestlé has businesses and briefs accessible for everyone to partner. “Globally, we have done this through what we call HENRi,” says Radhakrishnan. The name is dedicated to founder Henri Nestlé, and celebrates entrepreneurship. The platform connects startups to problems and briefs in the open innovation system.

One form of this was seen at the recently concluded ad:tech Delhi, where Nestlé partnered with the forum’s ‘The Next Big Thing’ initiative with three briefs that startups could apply for: ‘Help & Inspire Consumers to Cook’ specific to Maggi, and two company briefs around ‘Increasing Media Productivity’ and ‘Differentiated Brand Experiences Leveraging Product Packaging’.

A total of 83 startups applied, and nine were shortlisted. They presented their solutions to a jury comprising Nestlé’s senior management and industry’s leading figures such as Google’s vice president for Southeast Asia and India Rajan Anand, Facebook India’s managing director Umang Bedi and GroupM’s chief digital officer Rob Norman.

To select winners, jurors weighed the understanding of the briefs by the participating startups, the innovation and the uniqueness of their ideas, the stage of the solutions and the timeline in which the projects could be delivered. The winners were SilverPush and IotPot who were both awarded a fully funded pilot, and an opportunity to work with one of the largest companies in India.

The Win-Win
“Initiatives such as these reiterate not only that people want to work with Nestlé but also Nestlé’s intent to grow the startup ecosystem. We are a part of this system, and we want to participate in it humbly,” explains Radhakrishnan, for whom partnership and a collaborative culture are most important in bringing the best in a corporate’s relationship with a startup.

“It is important to work with a startup as an extension of a team rather than mere outsourcing of a brief. Nestlé has inherent advantages like scale, expertise and business intelligence. Startups bring innovative and customised solutions with a fabulous speed to market; with the ability to test, learn and refine quickly. Choosing the right way to work, that goes beyond the brief, results in a win-win partnership,” he says.

However, setting the expectations right and objectives clear is imperative. There are many models to work with startups ranging from hackathons to strategic investments. With [email protected]é, Nestlé has divided its expected work in three buckets: digitally enabled services, product innovations and sustainability.

The various briefs for [email protected]é come from these three buckets. “In many ways, it is like a marriage, and the process has to be thorough. If we do this with clarity, and define the scope and what we want from the startups, the benefits are endless,” sums up Radhakrishnan.