On 6 December Unilever, corporate partner of StartLife since 2018, opened their new Global Foods Innovation Center next door to StartLife. The center was officially opened by His Majesty the King of the Netherlands. Our managing director Jan Meiling, together with senior management of Unilever, was given the opportunity to discuss the value of open innovation ecosystems with the King.

The Hive

The Hive. That is how Unilever calls its €85 million global foods innovation center. From Hive, Unilever will lead its foods innovation programs for brands like Knorr, Hellmann’s, The Vegetarian Butcher and Calvė. Areas of research include: plant-based ingredients and meat alternatives, efficient crops, sustainable food packaging and nutritious foods. Together with its partners, amongst which StartLife’s startups, Unilever aims to transform the food industry into a healthy and sustainable system, driving innovations that are healthier for people and for our planet.

Next door neighbor

At StartLife we are, of course, very happy to welcome Unilever as our next door neighbor here at Wageningen Campus. “The arrival of the innovation center in Wageningen lowers thresholds for knowledge exchange and increases the chance for more and more intensive cooperation between people and parties on Wageningen Campus and the surrounding Foodvalley area,” says Laura Thissen, Operational Director of StartLife.

Caroline Bijkerk, Global partnership Manager at StartLife, adds: “One of the big advantages of having a corporate partner situated next door is that it is really easy to walk in, meet up and have more informal contact moments with each other. This applies for both StartLife and our startups. Digital communication tools, like e-mail and skype, are helpful, but are no substitute for meetings in the flesh.

Enriching regional entrepreneurial spirit

As said, Jan Meiling was given the opportunity to be part of a discussion about the value of open innovation ecosystems with the Dutch King. “I was happy to explain to the King why we are so pleased that Unilever has joined our regional open innovation ecosystem. First of all, Hive has a genuine open door policy, which is unique compared to most corporate innovation centers. And aside from an open inbound and outbound knowledge flow, the Hive adds value to our regional ecosystem by sharing infrastructure, fostering innovative research and enriching the entrepreneurial spirit in our region.”

Clearly, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Practical and figuratively speaking in this case. “We look forward taking the first bites,” concludes Jan.