The Unilever innovation and venturing process spans research and development (R&D), open innovation, a new businesses unit, direct investments and investing with independent venture capital firms, such as Physic Ventures, where Unilever is a cornerstone limited partner. Andrew Gaule, founder of the Corven Corporate Venturing Network, puts questions first to William Rosenzweig, managing director of Physic Ventures, which has Unilever as a cornerstone investor, then to Jon Hague, vice-president of open innovation at Unilever. Gaule’s Question Time’s June 2011 interview was with Martin Grieve, managing director of Unilever Corporate Ventures. Gaule: Can you please give us a brief description of your background? William Rosenzweig, managing director of Physic Ventures: I have been an investor for roughly the past 12 years, focused on early-stage venture capital, helping entrepreneurs turn ideas into businesses. Prior to that for around 10 years I was an entrepreneur myself, primarily in the healthy living and healthy foods space as I co-founded and was chief executive of the Republic of Tea and then senior vice-president of Odwalla, a healthy juice company. Physic Ventures is really the first venture capital firm dedicated to investing in keeping people healthy, which we think of as personal health, planetary health and community health. Gaule: An interesting aspect of Physic Ventures is how you are partnering with corporates, such as Unilever. How does that work? Rosenzweig: While we have several large corporate partners at Physic we also have financial investors, and that symmetry is very important. The institutional investors are interested in financial returns, so they hold the general partner accountable to being the best performing partner we can be. The corporate partners are interested in both financial returns and strategic value, so we try to find the sweet spot between Physic’s investment thesis and where the corporates are interested in generating value. With the foundational commitment of Unilever and soft drinks company PepsiCo we have been able to identify a lot of spaces in the nutrition, agriculture, food and sustainability sectors that are of mutual relevance. Our approach is called Network Innovation, which involves using the global insights we can gain from these big corporate partners to synthesise with our own understanding of the entrepreneurial marketplace to identify large unmet needs in the market. We often leverage technical expertise from those companies; Unilever has 2500 PhDs around the world for example. We’ve had visiting associates come into our firm and conduct evaluations of technology landscapes in synthetic biology, in packaging materials…
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Gaule’s Question Time: Unilever
May 7, 2012 • Andrew Gaule
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