Gerardo Mazzeo

Gerardo Mazzeo speaks at the 4YFN conference

Nestlé: Why we're committed to working with start-ups

Gerardo Mazzeo, global innovation director and CSV manager at Nestlé, tells us how and why the company is working with start-ups to bring more innovations to market.

In today’s society, entrepreneurship is a skill that is widely admired. Some of the most respected leaders in the world are entrepreneurs: those that innovate for a purpose, attempting to make the world a better place and striving for something that creates value for businesses, people and the planet alike. Those who do so offer a significant contribution to society, thinking of new ways to tackle some of our biggest challenges, as well as their businesses, enabling them to have longevity and retain a competitive edge.

In a complex business landscape, it is fundamental that stakeholders are engaged through the notion of purpose, concentrating on how best to future-proof their businesses and create lasting value for the rest of society. Indeed, we do not need to look far to see this in practice, with giants such as Bill Gates and Elon Musk championing innovation and entrepreneurship throughout every aspect of their business plan. At Nestlé, and specifically at HENRi, we have an ambitious, purpose-driven goal that we believe can be reached through an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit: to enhance quality of life and contribute to a healthier future. 

No one can achieve this success alone

As the world becomes ever more interconnected, we as companies are beginning to realise the benefits of looking beyond our own walls for new ideas. No longer is innovation limited to the internal R&D team, but we now have the opportunity to tap into the ingenuity of external partners.

As John Geraci wrote in Harvard Business Review, it helps to see companies not as organisms in and of themselves, but as ecosystems that interact with and rely on many different people and players, that are open to new ideas, influences, and external trends.

Throughout our journey, we have met and spoken with hundreds of start-up founders, and their passion and ambition has been infectious. Often these entrepreneurs are motivated and inspired by personal circumstances and so have a genuine interest in utilising their skills to create solutions for large-scale problems. They live and breathe their businesses, just like us.

When our ambitions align, that is where the best collaborations lie and where value is added both to our own business as well as theirs. It is vital, therefore, that a peer-to-peer relationship is adopted when we partner with these early-stage companies.

Many believe that corporations and start-ups cannot work together due to their make-up being incompatible; however, we want to overhaul this notion completely, displaying the benefits and the ease of collaboration. When a relationship is based on humility, trust and the desire to do great work together, everything else will follow naturally.

Shared values

This is why we at Nestlé are working with some of the most inspiring and exciting entrepreneurs on the planet. Our HENRi platform exists to bring together the creative spirit and ingenuity of innovators with the scale and expertise of a 150-year-old global company.

We want to identify and partner with today’s innovators and entrepreneurs who have a passion to create real change within the sustainability, nutrition, health, and wellness sectors. From diagnosing micronutrient deficiency to reimagining the future of water bottles, some of the most overwhelming issues we face today in order to create a sustainable tomorrow can be tackled through open innovation.

When it comes to identifying those businesses where we think there is the highest potential for collaboration, we open up real business challenges for applications from entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. Once companies are chosen, we use a pilot-proof-of-concept approach, supported by senior leadership and US$50,000.

By partnering with HENRi, smaller companies can reach the scale they need to really have impact. At the same time we have an opportunity to help bring new technologies and ideas to a massive number of people throughout the world, whilst solving business challenges from the outside in.

This is why we at HENRi@Nestlé are such advocates of collaborative thinking. We live in a world where there is now an abundance of start-ups who have some of the most intelligent minds behind them – why waste this opportunity to allow your business to truly excel? Of course, this mind-set does not need to be exclusive to big corporations such as Nestlé, but can be adopted by any business of any size.

Whether it is collaboration with innovative start-ups or with local community groups, the idea that others can contribute their knowledge to allow innovation to prosper in a business still holds true.