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A discussion on Corporate and Startup Collaboration with the Global Innovation Director at Nestlé

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by Startacus Admin

A discussion on Corporate and Startup Collaboration with the Global Innovation Director at Nestlé.
corporate and startup collaboration


Gerardo Mazzeo is the Global Innovation Director at Nestlé, the world’s leading Nutrition, Health and Wellness company, with 335,000 employees and more than 2,000 brands in 189 countries.

Gerardo has worked at Nestlé in commercial and marketing roles for twenty years and most notably here, heads up [email protected]Nestlé, an innovation platform that aims to connect Nestlé with innovators and startups to create innovative, high-potential and scalable solutions to core social and business challenges.

We’ve been focusing on the progress of [email protected]Nestlé recently, and with the KITKAT Sustainability project awarded to London adtech startup Good-Loop at the end of 2017, and a number of projects currently open for applications, we were delighted to take the time to interview Gerardo to gain his understanding on the value of corporate and startup collaboration and to find out more about the overall goals and ambitions of HENRi itself. 

Gerardo MazzeoHi there Gerardo.

Corporate and Startup collaboration, from hackathons through to accelerator programmes seem to have become more commonplace in the last few years. Why do you think this is?

It’s an interesting question. The growth of open innovation – corporate/start-up collaboration – has been rapid, and it’s been amazing to be a part of this relatively new landscape. For me, when you’re taking on big challenges, you need to bring together all of the best and most relevant parties. The new technologies coming out of the start-up world are more exciting, innovative and inspiring than ever. So it makes total sense to open up to these external partners and to find ways that we can combine our strengths of scale, resources and expertise with their immense capabilities.

I think that the more we can all take this collaborative approach, promote open innovation, support entrepreneurs and invest in the future, the better. We simply can achieve more when we all work together.

What typical barriers do you think still exist between startups and corporates, that can make collaboration difficult?

For many big companies, it’s still a fairly new way of working. And it’s a different way of working. There is a difference in cultures and styles, which can present a challenge, but it’s undoubtedly a good problem to have. It means we, the corporates, have to adapt, modernise, change our ways of working and act more like a start-up ourselves. We have to move fast, test and learn and take the odd risk along the way. Without that, a joint project can start to stutter.

There’s also a crucial point around trust. There is still some distrust of corporations, especially when it comes to working with us. Questions of IP tend to arise, of course, and more general concerns about the possibility of feeling exploited or undervalued. It’s absolutely essential that these issues are nipped in the bud at the earliest stage. First and foremost, both parties should be aligned behind the same ambition. That’s the root of a trustful relationship. But beyond that, the entire collaboration should be seen as it is: a peer-to-peer, mutually beneficial value exchange. It makes all the difference.

From a startups perspective - what would you think would be the key benefits to forging a partnership with a startup and corporate innovationcorporate business?

Thanks to our size, we do have an amazing depth of resources at our disposal: brands with greater reach than ever, vast industry expertise, extensive R&D capabilities, networks of useful contacts around the world and much more. That means a huge opportunity for innovative ideas to take flight. It’s why we started [email protected]é and it’s why, just over a year in, I’m more confident than ever in its potential for the future.

In terms of Nestlé, why have you taken this step towards collaborating externally on innovation projects?

At Nestlé, and specifically at HENRi, we have a hugely ambitious goal: to enhance quality of life and contribute to a healthier future. But we know that we can’t achieve such ambitious goals alone, especially at a time when there are thousands of strong start-ups right at the forefront of modern technology. So HENRi gives us the chance to combine the creative spirit and ingenuity of external innovators with our scale and expertise. And by doing so, we can tackle projects that will make a genuine difference, not just to Nestlé and our partners, but to millions of people across the world.

Tell us more about HENRi - what would you say are the key overall goals and ambitions with this innovation programme?

HENRi is an open innovation platform that collaborates with early-stage companies to create innovative, high-potential solutions in response to brand and business challenges. It is named after Nestlé founder Henri Nestlé, a pioneer and entrepreneur who was motivated by the challenges and the needs of the society he was living in. The HENRi platform offers real business opportunities for companies to collaborate with Nestlé on product innovation, sustainability initiatives, creative brand campaigns and more. Selected companies receive $50,000 and senior business support to fund pilots to bring their products and ideas to customers.

startup and corporate collaborationWhat key criteria do you apply when shortlisting potential startups for a project?

We look at a range of factors – you have to, because the applications are so broad and come from companies of all shapes and sizes. Of course, when someone has truly disruptive technology or potentially transformative ideas, we’re really interested in hearing from them. We try to take into account scalability, viability and the scale-up opportunity. 

But beyond that, the best start-ups we meet are set apart by a passion for what they do and an ambition to make a real impact. So often we hear stories of entrepreneurs who are inspired by personal circumstances. They live and breathe their business, and so do we. When our ambitions align, that’s where the best collaborations lie.

For us, innovation is one thing, but we think that it’s those who innovate for a purpose who make the biggest contribution. At HENRi every project we invest in is backed by a genuine need – whether it’s to enhance consumer’s lives, improve sustainability, or help people keep healthy. By staying true to our values and always innovating for a reason, we can find likeminded partners and channel our energy into the most effective and meaningful collaborations. The projects that matter. 

corporate innovationCan you tell us more about some of the key HENRi success stories in 2017?

I’m delighted to say that our success stories are starting to come through at an ever-increasing rate. Of course, the opportunity to meet with great start-ups and entrepreneurs in the UK and across Europe, the USA, Middle East, Far East and South America was something special. Our project launch at the United Nations General Assembly in New York was a highlight, and it was great to see the first-ever HENRi live pitch competition at ad:tech London.

Our projects launched throughout the year were testament to the open innovation ambitions that are spreading across the company, and I was especially pleased that we were able to prove its immense worth as a model with our first case studies starting to come to light.

Nespresso’s Connected Coffee Farm, providing consumers with a direct link to our farms and our sustainability initiatives, was a wonderful example of what we can achieve when we work together and enlist great partners.

The Nestlé Waters team is just coming to pilot stage with a great solution that will lead to sustainability improvements following their HENRi project, while our micronutrient deficiency diagnosis project is now at proof-of-concept stage. Field trials are starting very soon. Again, the partner we found has been fantastic and we’re really excited about what this can achieve.

And finally, can you share word on any new developments you have in place for HENRi in 2018?HENRi

There will be one or two enhancements but, overall, we’re hoping for more of the same. The key thing for us is the quality of the projects that we take on. We want to choose meaningful ambitions which will truly enhance quality of life and contribute to a healthier future. I’m delighted to say that there are some amazing projects in the pipeline from across the business, all seeking to achieve some truly ground-breaking things. We’ll be sure to continue the success of our existing projects, enjoy more interactions with inspiring start-ups around the world and, of course, to more great partnerships in the spirit of purposeful collaborative innovation. 

[email protected]é is an open innovation platform where early-stage companies can partner with Nestlé to pilot high-potential solutions to some of the most challenging issues across their FMCG portfolio. Selected companies receive $50,000 and senior business support to fund pilots to bring their products and ideas to customers. 

Check out our recent feature on two currently live HENRi projects, one which aims to nurture the next generation of farmers and one which aims to tackle malnutrition head-on by spreading nutritional knowledge and empower better health.


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Published on: 5th January 2018

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