January 29, 2013 5:40 pm

P&G joins forces in search for start-ups

Procter & Gamble is joining forces with a young Silicon Valley crowdfunding company in a hunt for promising consumer product start-ups.

The owner of personal care products including Crest toothpaste and Pampers nappies will join General Mills in partnering with CircleUp, the San Francisco-based online finance start-up for food and personal care products, to find potential investment or acquisition targets at an earlier stage in the entrepreneurial cycle.

P&G has been struggling to focus its product innovation efforts, after admitting last year that a dearth of radical ideas contributed to mediocre profit growth. Drawing on the knowledge of Silicon Valley, as well as the eco-friendly product development of the Bay Area, is one of the strategies it has adopted to correct this.

“With each passing year, the internal venture groups at the P&Gs and General Mills’ of the world are getting larger and more important,” said Ryan Caldbeck, chief executive of CircleUp. “They have mandates to go out and identify innovation.”

CircleUp believes its collection of food and personal care start-ups are of particular interest to these multinationals.

CircleUp provides financing to early-stage companies with annual revenues of about $10m, which are typically too big for angel investors, but too small for private equity funds. CircleUp aims to fill that funding gap by pooling small investments of about $1,000 each from individuals into one large investment of about $50,000. With this approach, they have cut the typical fundraising time down from 12 months to two, Mr Caldbeck said.

P&G and CircleUp declined to comment on the financial details of the partnership, though P&G makes company experts available to mentor start-up founders to help them solve problems.

“On the P&G side, it’s really about looking for access, not only to those companies and what they’re working on, it’s really access to their founders,” said Andrew Backs, manager of new business creation at P&G.

Mr Backs is part of a three-person team based in San Francisco to keep an eye on the latest digital, mobile, and big data trends coming out of the technology industry. P&G has already partnered with ShopKick, a mobile app that delivers discounts and ads for P&G products to shoppers when they walk into a retail store, and is working on securing partnerships with several more start-ups.

The company is also attracted to the eco-friendly and organic movements rooted in the Bay Area, and is looking for new household cleaners, beauty care and pet products that reflect that trend.

General Mills is also looking for more natural, organic food products and healthy snacks to invest in and add to its product line, said Meredith Schwarz, manager of General Mills Ventures.

Ms Schwarz travels all over the country, visiting grocery stores and tasting local products. When she finds a company that is too small to meet the funding criteria for General Mills, she refers them to CircleUp. She also monitors how investors respond to other companies trying to raise money on the platform.

“I’m very curious to see some of the brands that raise capital on CircleUp,” she said. “I want to stay in touch with them as they grow.”

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