The Unilever Foundry comes to Dublin to find the next big thing in retail

13 Jul 2017

The CHQ Building is a live retail environment that sees almost 40,000 people walking through it every week. Image: Dogpatch

Could an Irish start-up be the next Dollar Shave Club?

Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brand Unilever is to establish a wing of its global start-up platform, The Unilever Foundry, in Dublin.

The global giant aims to work with up to 20 start-ups in the coming years and will use Dublin city as a testbed for exciting new concepts in retail and e-commerce.

The Unilever Foundry will be located at Dogpatch Labs within the CHQ Building and it is already working with two promising Irish start-ups: online grocery app Buymie and online laundry app Laundrie. Both Buymie and Laundrie were previous Start-ups of the Week on

The Unilever Foundry is a platform for start-ups and innovators to engage, collaborate and explore ideas with Unilever across its 400-plus brands. It is already active in London, Singapore, New York, India, Brazil and China.

Unilever, which owns more than 400 consumer brands and is one of the biggest advertisers on the planet, is keen to get to grips with future retail and consumer technologies. Last year, it acquired Dollar Shave Club for $1bn.

The company told that it is keen to work with Irish start-ups, which can register their interest here.

New adventures in retail

The Unilever Foundry comes to Dublin to find the next big thing in retail tech

Evan Gary (second from left), founder of Laundrie, in a workshop with the Unilever and Dogpatch Labs teams. Image: Dogpatch Labs

Speaking with, the managing director of Unilever Ireland, Nick Johnson, said that Dublin holds major promise.

“Through The Unilever Foundry, we are already working with start-ups in eight markets. The aim is to connect to all the new innovative stuff, from retail advertising technology to e-commerce.

“We have partnered with Laundrie, for example, to test out new detergents and conditioners, and we are partnering with Buymie to provide an on-demand grocery delivery service.

“This is just the start, we are dipping our toe in the market. What we really want to do is get a feel for the city in terms of ways of testing new approaches to selling goods and advertising products using the latest technologies.

“Will we actively invest? Yes. The level and scale of investment is not something we tend to disclose.

“What we are looking at is starting working with two to three start-ups and potentially up to 20 teams in the coming year or so,” said Johnson.

This is the latest in a series of major accelerator partnerships that Dogpatch Labs has engaged in. Recent collaborations include Google, Ulster Bank and billionaire Irish man Dr Pearse Lyons’ agritech giant Alltech.

The Unilever Foundry comes to Dublin to find the next big thing in retail tech

Devan Hughes (centre), founder of Buymie, in a workshop in the Dogpatch Vaults. Image: Dogpatch Labs

Dogpatch Labs managing director Patrick Walsh said: “There are already a bunch of amazing Irish companies that are transforming the future of e-commerce and retail using the latest technologies, including AI and voice technology.

“There are really promising companies like Pointy and LogoGrab that are worth keeping an eye on.

“The arrival of Unilever Foundry in Dublin is a promising development, especially for companies that are heading towards Series A funding. It is an opportunity to break out of the Irish market and into the global domain.”

Walsh said that Unilever, whose products are used by 2.5bn people worldwide every day, will actively test technologies on Dublin streets as well as within the CHQ Building in the IFSC.

“Every day, six or seven thousand people pass through the building … and the target demographic that walks through the door – mostly young professionals – is one that Unilever is keen to tap into with new concepts in retail. The key is to connect with consumers early in the process.”

The arrival of The Unilever Foundry will also connect Irish start-ups with a wider global start-up community targeting the FMCG space with new technology concepts, according to the head of The Unilever Foundry, Jonathan Hammond.

“Unilever Foundry provides a single entry point for start-ups seeking to partner with Unilever, enabling the company’s brands and functions to experiment and pilot new technologies effectively,” he said.

“Born through Unilever Foundry’s own mission to collaborate, experiment and pioneer for a sustainable future, The Unilever Foundry at Dogpatch Labs is a physical manifestation of this ethos and gives Unilever access to a growing European start-up community.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years