Organisation - April 19, 2018

Unilever provides Wageningen start-ups with lab access

Stijn van Gils

From now on, it will be easier for Wageningen start-ups to use Unilever’s facilities, knowledge and network. The multinational from Rotterdam has signed an agreement with the Wageningen start-up supervisor StartLife.

Isabelle Esser of Unilever (left) signs the agreement with Jan Meiling of StartLife (right). © Sven Menschel

Starting businesses that are affiliated with StartLife can now contact the start-up supervisor if they want to get in touch with Unilever. This applies to entrepreneurs who need specific lab facilities, for example, but also for starters who need help with such matters as marketing.

No competitor
‘You might think that Unilever runs the risk of helping a future competitor set up shop, but that is not the case’, explains Jan Meiling of StartLife. According to the managing director, who signed the agreement last Friday, the consumer goods company mainly creates an innovative environment with this deal. ‘You can imagine that many younger entrepreneurs will walk around Unilever’s labs soon. This will have an effect on the atmosphere and will facilitate cross-fertilisation that will be beneficial to both parties.’

It is also a way of attracting new talent.
Jan Meiling, managing director StartLife

Through this agreement, Unilever will gain insight into the ideas of young, academically educated entrepreneurs. ‘For them, it is also a way of attracting new talent or to collaborate with a promising company – or even take them over in the long run.’ Unilever also has the possibility to ask the companies affiliated with StartLife to contribute to themes challenging the multinational, such as the prevention of food waste.

First deal with food concern
Entrepreneurs who are affiliated with StartLife who would prefer to work with a different consumer goods company can still do so. Furthermore, the arrangements that were made are not exclusive; this means that starters can still work with other companies.

However, the contract with Unilever is the first ‘partnership’ with a food concern. The start-up platform already has similar deals with the substrate producer Klasmann Deilmann, who produces potting soil among other things, and wholesaler Metro, known in the Netherlands for the Makro chain of warehouses. StartLife also has several contracts with partners who prefer to remain anonymous.

Unilever contributes an – according to Meiling modest – ‘partnership fee’ to StartLife. The exact value has not been made public. StartLife was established in 2010 by a collaboration that includes WUR and now has over 200 affiliated companies. Like many of the participating start-ups, the platform is located in the new building Plus Ultra, next to the research centre that Unilever is currently building.