The power of partnerships, great and small

No one company has all the answers, which is why we’ve always collaborated with firms of all shapes and sizes from all over the world. Recently, we partnered with Startup Grind for its global conference, at which we hosted the RB Innovation Hack – a 24-hour health innovation challenge.

The start of this year saw the announcement of our collaboration with Amazon in the US to find a way to help families ensure they never run out of essential items, such as Enfamil infant formula or Finish dishwasher tablets. This project is looking into using smart packaging and auto-replenishment technology and promises to put an end to emergency trips to the supermarket thanks to seamless product ordering via Amazon before the packet is empty.

“While it’s not every day that we can announce we’re working with one of the world’s largest companies, partnerships and collaborations do lie at the very heart of RB. Our success is built upon them,” explains Sejal Sachdev, Head of Scientific and Partner Engagement, Health.

Some of our partnerships are long and well-established. We’ve worked with the £31bn Swiss fragrance and flavour house Givaudan for decades to develop and refine products. More recently, we spent two years working with Veolia, the £16.3bn waste-management company, to develop the new Finish Quantum packaging with 30 per cent recycled plastic.

The two-way innovation pipeline
“Sometimes, our partners come to us with innovations they’ve been working on that could meet a pipeline need for one of our brands. On other occasions, we give partners a brief to help us solve a particular challenge. In this way, partnership drives much of our innovation pipeline,” says Dr Phil Bolton, VP Health Innovation. But it’s not just global leaders that we work with to create a cleaner, healthier world.

“Working with start-ups, for example, can be enormously rewarding. The energy and small size of start-ups make them nimble, while our size and experience after nearly 200 years in business gives us the knowledge and resources to back great ideas,” says Dr Bolton. But finding the right start-ups, and even letting that community know that you don’t have to be a billion-pound company to work with RB, can be hard. “That’s one of the reasons we’ve partnered with Startup Grind,” he explains.

Sponsorship, surveys and hackathons
Startup Grind is one of the world’s largest start-up communities, with more than two million members and 600-plus chapters across the world. The partnership involved RB sponsorship of Startup Grind’s 2020 global conference in Redwood City, California  and, ahead of this, included a survey with Startup Grind’s global community to understand its partnership needs and the impact on personal health of working at a start-up. The findings were published just before the conference at which our RB Innovation Hack was hosted.


At the hack, three teams were given just 24 hours to come up with an innovative solution to help new mothers tackle the effects of pregnancy and childbirth on their mood and cognitive functions. The mixed teams were made up of people from 13 selected health start-ups, such as medical-wearables specialist ten3T from Bangalore, India, as well as 15 specialists from R&D, marketing and ecommerce at RB.

The winning team gave a phenomenal presentation on “We’ve got you, Mum” – an idea for a platform to connect new mothers and pregnant women peer-to-peer, as well as to health professionals and life coaches.

Says Dr Bolton, who was the lead RB judge: “Already, just days after the conference, we’re looking at how to refine and develop further – not just this winning idea, but all three proposals that came out of the hack.”

The win-win deal
But our input into the partnership doesn’t stop with the survey and hackathon. As the survey showed, many people in start-ups work long hours, with little or no time to pursue other interests. Recognising the sacrifices they may have made to take part, we’re offering them mentoring in an area of their choice.

Working with RB really is all about relationships. Good partnerships are a win-win for everyone. And at RB, the health innovation team is there specifically to help SMEs and health entrepreneurs connect with one of the world’s leading consumer healthcare companies and forge long and productive relationships.

This is more important than ever because, as the new decade proceeds, digital is expected to transform the consumer health sector.

“Wearables and the Internet of Things are having a huge impact in helping people better look after their health and this will only continue to grow. Our recent work with world-renowned futures consultancy The Future Laboratory produced the Consumer Futures Report, focused on this very topic,” says Dan Boot, Head of Digital Disruptive Innovation.

The report examined a number of areas, including ageing, pregnancy, pain relief and nutrition, and looked at how artificial intelligence (AI), personalised medicine and virtual relief might transform solutions in these health areas. It also identified disrupters such as Seres Therapeutics and Commense, which are both already doing invaluable work in the field of microbiomes – the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in a person’s gut and influence our health, weight, mood and even energy levels.

“It’s companies like these that are proof, if any were needed, that even a consumer-health giant the size of RB cannot come up with all the best new ideas. But we can work with those that do,” he says.

Our health innovation team, along with everyone else at the company, are working hard to make sure that our partnerships with start-ups and disrupters are just as successful as those we’ve forged with the Amazons, Veolias and Givaudans of this world. As Dr Bolton says: “These smaller partnerships are just as important to our future.”

RB Hackathon 2020