What does Diageo offer start-ups?

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25 European Corporate Startup Stars reveals which large companies are doing the most to support new firms. These case studies highlight some specific examples of active and successful collaboration between corporates and start-ups.

A good example of…

Coherent leadership

European headquarters: London, UK

Geographical reach: Global

Sector/s of interest: Alcoholic beverages, anti-theft, responsible drinking, counterfeiting, smart packaging, subscription models and promotional efficiency

Works with start-ups through:

  • A number of initiatives, which include Diageo Technology Ventures (DTV), set up to partner with and invest in technology brands, and Distill Ventures, an accelerator for spirits start-ups
  • The Diageo Academy, which enables the wider business to adopt the processes and tools used by the Diageo programmes

Why does Diageo work with start-ups?

Consumer goods company Diageo works with start-ups to solve business challenges, disrupt its business model and partner with experts. This enables the corporation to take advantage of new opportunities in a variety of fields.

How does Diageo work with start-ups?

With a clear commitment to innovation from senior management, Diageo works with start-ups through a number of initiatives. These include Diageo Technology Ventures (DTV), set up to partner with and invest in technology brands, and Distill Ventures, an accelerator for spirits start-ups, supported by Diageo’s dedicated Futures Team.

The aim of creating partnerships with start-ups is to grow Diageo’s revenue and to harness the power of ‘start-up thinking’ by gathering new ideas and working methods. For example, pitching sessions and faster decision-making processes have proved successful and been integrated into Diageo’s wider corporate culture as a result.

What has Diageo done to facilitate collaboration with start-ups?

The Distill Ventures accelerator programme enables Diageo to invest in innovative drinks brands in high-potential emerging categories. The founders of these are able to remain independent but draw on Diageo’s support to grow their businesses.

Meanwhile, Diageo Technology Ventures invests and partners in emerging technology companies that affect how consumers discover and experience Diageo’s brands. Past briefs have covered: anti-theft, responsible drinking, counterfeiting, smart packaging, subscription models and promotional efficiency.

The Diageo Futures Team, Distill Ventures and Diageo Technology Ventures bring learning from entrepreneurs back into Diageo. The online learning platform, Diageo Academy, enables this learning – as well as processes and tools – to be adopted by the wider business. One of Diageo’s key behaviours is ‘acting like an owner’, and this is something entrepreneurs regularly demonstrate.

There is a strong commitment to start-ups from the top of the organisation. Diageo’s CEO and CMO carry out mentoring sessions for the companies accelerated by Distill Ventures. And the Distill Ventures and Technology Ventures Boards both have representatives from Diageo’s executive committee.

Success story: S01 

In 2016, Diageo piloted SO1, a start-up based in Berlin who drives promotional efficiency in store by targeting tailored promotions to shoppers based on their purchase history.

The initial evaluation of this small-scale pilot, has been very positive, with ROI significantly higher than existing in-store activity and recruiting new shoppers into brands.

Diageo will be looking to extend its partnership with SO1 thought 2016 to look at both promotional efficiency and access to data.


“Diageo provides excellent buy-in for start-ups right from the top of the company”

Edward Wray, Corporate Startup Stars judge


What can other corporates learn from Diageo about working with start-ups?
  • Distill Ventures and Diageo Technology Ventures enable Diageo to partner with innovative new companies and future-proof their business without distracting from their core operations
  • Programmes to partner with and invest in new brands and emerging technologies foster a mindset of entrepreneurialism within the business. Employees also see the power of working with startups to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities
  • Senior management commitment to working with start-ups results in fast decision making and cuts out bureaucracy

What is Diageo looking for from the start-ups it works with?

Diageo is looking for partners who have the potential to disrupt the alcoholic beverage space now and in the future. These can be from a range of disciplines and industries, but are typically companies that have the potential to scale across brands and markets, and are a cultural fit with Diageo.

How can start-ups get involved with Diageo?

Diageo is open to working with start-ups across the business, but a good way to initially get in touch is through The Futures Team, Distill Ventures or Diageo Technology Ventures.
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Image courtesy of SVC2UK CEO Summit 2015.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 644104.

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