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Q&A: YouNoodle on Why Startups Can Be Key to Your Sustainability Strategy

Image credit: YouNoodle

Well known as a technology engine — with a global network of 200,000+ startups that has powered a 1000+ innovation/startup competitions and challenges — YouNoodle might not be the first company you think of for advice on corporate sustainability strategy. But as the industrial era is replaced by a more entrepreneurial society, YouNoodle is helping brands and organizations keep up with disruptive innovation — and the sustainability space could certainly use more of that.

The tech platform has already supported numerous competitions and challenges focused on social and environmental impact (including our very own Sustainable Brands Innovation Open), which can be useful tools for brands to find the right innovators to work with to help achieve corporate sustainability goals.

We connected with Shilpa Prasad, Chief Growth Officer at YouNoodle, to learn more about how corporations and startups can work together to advance sustainability.

Why is it useful for companies to engage with startups?

Shilpa Prasad: Startups are innovative, disruptive and agile. Corporates, on the other hand, are structured and this very structure often limits their ambitions in finding and integrating new technologies, business models, or entire startup teams at a pace that could make a difference. Corporations also fear disruption — ‘when is the Uber or Amazon moment going to happen in my industry?’

Engaging with startups helps brands and corporates in:

  • identifying processes or materials that can make their own productions more sustainable, impacting their supply chain or the value chain;
  • expanding to emerging markets or new communities through the reach of startups; and
  • tackling certain inefficiencies within the corporate structure/process toward innovation.

There are lots of startups out there trying to tackle social and environmental problems. How can engaging with them help companies achieve their own sustainability goals?

SP: 10 years ago, the focus on sustainability was an option for corporations. Today, corporations must ensure that there is a focus on social and environmental problems. I think that startups tackle these problems with technologies and solutions that can pivot to address the very focus/objective of the corporation, in turn allowing them to drive the bigger change.

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Take, for example, Paras Loomba, [founder of] the Global Himalayan Expedition (GHE), which seeks to provide clean energy, education and wireless connectivity access through solar power, to help improve the living standards of the rural population in the Himalayas. GHE’s objective is to implement the solution in a sustainable, scalable and environmentally beneficial manner, leading to an overall development of the community and empowering the local village population. Energy access intervention has acted as a tool for further development and growth in these remote areas, and has led to an increase in income and livelihood creation.

By winning’s Booster initiative (a sustainable tourism initiative that has run on the YouNoodle engine for three years now — check out its Impact Report here), [Loomba’s] team has recently gotten both the firepower of a grant and the backing of the brand to allow him to continue and build on his vision.

Through startups such as GHE and more, is furthering its overall objectives of:

What are some of the ways companies typically engage with startups? Any tips for companies considering what approach(es) might work best?

There are so many different models in which corporates and startups come together. The chart below will explain it better.

Ultimately, the focus should be around a model that allows for maximum impact. The focus should be on finding global solutions that startups and founders can build on, irrespective of where they are located, and that the solution is scalable and not cost-intensive.

What makes startup competitions a valuable tool for companies?

SP: If done right, startup challenges/competitions can be useful in a few different ways for brands/corporations. They can:

  • Be a great way to explore global solutions/technologies [with which] startups are building, scaling and disrupting the industry, from early-stage projects to projects that are ready to scale.
  • Allow for the corporation to align the startups with their brand’s vision/mission with respect to impact (be it sustainability or environmental impact).
  • Allow for the corporate brand to align its own brand to an impact/cause both externally and internally.
  • Allow for corporations to identify the top tier within the data set that was generated so they can engage with the very best startups, when done with a suitable evaluation framework/methodology.
  • Be an efficient and cost-effective medium of sharing the corporate mission with a wide audience of startups, founders, channel partners and all other ecosystem players.

Are there any sustainability-focused competitions or programs coming up that you're excited about?

SP: Yes, absolutely! I am very excited about Tommy Hilfiger’s Social Innovation Challenge, a global initiative that aims to support entrepreneurial startup and scale-up-stage businesses that are developing solutions with a positive social impact on the fashion value chain. Winners will receive a year-long mentorship with Tommy Hilfiger’s internal experts globally, in addition to winning a grant of up to €100,000, as well as a place on the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Program. Tommy Hilfiger’s mission is to be one of the leading sustainable designer lifestyle brands through how it creates its product, manages its operations, and connects with its communities and stakeholders.

This is particularly exciting to me also because YouNoodle is able to work with the Tommy Hilfiger brand from the very early stages of designing and building the program and to ultimately helping Tommy Hilfiger define itself in a new way in front of the startup community while creating impact.

Launched in 2006, Sustainable Brands has become a global learning, collaboration, and commerce community of forward-thinking business and brand strategy, marketing, innovation and sustainability professionals who are leading the way to a better future. We recognize that brands today have… [Read more about Sustainable Brands]

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