AB InBev is the world’s largest brewer with 260 breweries and operations in 50+ countries. The company is constantly looking to grow the beer category and deliver long-term sustainable top and bottom-line growth, with a focus on consumer-centricity, operational excellence and innovation.
One of AB InBev’s stated missions is to build a company that lasts. And to do so, they recognized the importance of supporting a healthy environment and thriving communities. The company set out ambitious sustainability goals for 2025, aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whereby AB InBev committed to creating a better world for all stakeholders, while also creating value for the business.
To achieve these goals, AB InBev knew they had to look outside their own organization to startups with specialized experience, technology and innovation. The company had the idea of launching a startup accelerator that could help them solve pressing sustainability challenges. This brought them to working with Highline Beta and implementing a pilot program accelerator model for the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator.
Why Highline Beta?
Highline Beta helps large corporations identify new opportunities to grow their business through internal and external innovation. We help companies build new ventures, partner with startups and co-invest in growth opportunities.
One of our key approaches is our pilot program accelerator model, which is focused on creating successful pilot opportunities for startups to work with our Fortune 1000 clients. Through decades of experience with startup accel- erator models, we’ve designed a tailor-made pilot program accelerator that helps attract and source the best startups, and then accelerate partnership opportunities with corporates.
Each pilot program accelerator is based on a core 6-month program, designed to address the key concerns that both corporates and startups have when engaging in partnerships. Highline Beta provides the framework — customized to the specific needs of each corporate — that increases the quality of startups identified and the speed of successful pilot execution.
How the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator Works
The 100+ Sustainability Accelerator was first launched in late 2018, as an annual program that identifies the best global startups with solutions that AB InBev and its partners can implement quickly, in order to make progress on the company’s sustainability goals. The first cohort ran in 2019, with 21 startups sourced from 700 applications, and the second cohort in the subsequent year saw 15 selections from 1,200 applications. AB InBev is aiming to help support and accelerate 100 startups by 2025 through the program. The startups that have been selected represent more than 16 different countries, demonstrating the truly global nature of the accelerator.
Each year, the program design is tweaked based on learnings from the previous cohort. Although the high-level sustainability goals remain the same each year, the specific challenges put into the startup ecosystem vary. AB InBev designed challenges with the support of Highline Beta that are detailed enough, but also open-ended, in order to attract the highest volume of quality startups. Each challenge, such as Every Single Drop (which focuses on Water Stewardship) provides startups with a list of problems and potential solutions that AB InBev is interested in piloting. This provides startups with the necessary detail and guidance to determine if their solution is a fit.
With AB InBev, we developed a mentorship and training program for the startups, which goes beyond the pilot efforts provided by Highline Beta and leverages AB InBev domain experts and external mentors.
Startup Sourcing & Selection
The startup recruitment process lasts 2-3 months. AB InBev and Highline Beta use their extensive networks of investors, founders, collaborators and more to identify potential startups. Startups are shortlisted for review, and we receive feedback to constantly improve our targeted sourcing efforts.
Each startup is assessed on a number of criteria to determine their fit for the program. These criteria are based on Highline Beta’s and AB InBev’s experience as accelerator operators and investors, along with specific criteria focused on measuring the potential of a startup piloting successfully with AB InBev.
AB InBev’s communication team, originally supported by Highline Beta, works to generate buzz and awareness in-market, which helps attract startups and overall industry awareness.
Program Execution & Demo Day
The 100+ Sustainability Accelerator runs for 6 months, from kick-off to Demo Day. During the program startups are provided with a series of webinars and workshops which cover a wide range of topics important for startup success.
Additional office hours and cohort-based activities are included throughout the program to foster further connectivity between participants and AB InBev. Startups are partnered with 1 or 2 internal AB InBev experts that serve as their implementation guides throughout the program. These become key contacts for startups working with AB InBev to ensure that startups and AB InBev have what they need to be successful. Highline Beta provided mentorship training to the internal experts to bridge the divide between how big companies and startups operate.
The internal experts, 100+ team and startups work together to design their pilots and create a statement of work (SOW), which provides the framework for how the pilot will function, key KPIs, etc. The goal of the SOW is to get everyone aligned on what will be done during the pilot, who is responsible and initial timelines.
We had an idea for a new kind of corporate accelerator and Highline Beta helped bring it to life. They work with us to make sure the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator is world-class, sourcing and selecting great startups and providing mentorship and guidance throughout. Highline Beta understands how corporations and startups work, knows how to set up winning conditions, and measure progress. They’ve proven to be the ultimate universal translator to ensure success all around.Maisie Devine,
Global Director, AB InBev’s 100+ Accelerator
During the program AB InBev leverages a variety of marketing channels including social media, blog posts and live streams to promote the startups and amplify their messaging with the support of Highline Beta.
The program culminates in a demo day event where startups present their pilot progress to relevant stakeholders, investors, other potential partners, clients and more.
Success Metrics for the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator
The first two cohorts of the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator were incredibly successful. Beyond making significant progress towards AB InBev’s sustainability goals, the company looks at three additional measures of success, including:
1. Efficiency Gains & Commercial Deals
AB InBev estimated that the startups it worked with in the first two cohorts were on track to help the company save up to $80M per year by 2025. This clearly proves that sustainability is good for business.
Furthermore, over 50% of these startups went on to secure commercial deals with AB InBev, which represents a high success rate from the initial pilots. This is a critical metric that demonstrates how the pilot program accelerator model works to increase the speed of evaluation, and clarity around how a commercial deal can be designed and delivered.
2. Startup Fundraising
By the end of the first 2 cohorts, the startups participating in the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator had raised over $200M in financing from a variety of top-tier global investors, niche sustainability funds and angel investors, includ- ing Sofinnova, Greycroft, Barclays, Sound Ventures, Bluewater, Emerson Collective and more.
Highline Beta invested in BanQu after the conclusion of the program’s first cohort.
3. Brand Lift & Media Attention
The 100+ Sustainability Accelerator has become a platform for brand building and growth, both for AB InBev and the startups. A variety of marketing efforts throughout the course of the program lead to increased earned media. For example, the accelerator was named one of the 10 most inspiring accelerator programs in the world by Clique AI.
Additionally, more than 10 of AB InBev’s brands including Goose Island, Bavaria, Leffe and Corona, have worked closely with the startups, increasing the importance and potential of the partnerships, as well as generating further brand lift, media attention and awareness.
Amplification of the startups’ involvement with AB InBev, and their commitment to sustainability, demonstrates a collective commitment to what consumers care about, bridging the gap and catering to major behavioral trends (i.e. recycling, lower consumption, etc.), while also tying back to AB InBev’s ethos of “We Dream Big.” The accelerator program links directly into AB InBev’s core business and messaging.
Being a part of the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator with AB InBev and Highline Beta has been a fantastic experience. As a Canadian green-tech startup, the opportunity to work on multiple global pilots with AB InBev, has brought us one step closer to launching truly sustainable eco-friendly plastics that perfectly fit into AB InBev’s production and supply chains. The mentorship and support we’ve received from Highline Beta and AB InBev throughout the experience has helped us build a more scalable product and the 100+ Accelerator program kept us all focused on delivering great results.Nuha Siddiqui,
A Challenge Worth Accepting
It can be challenging for large corporations to navigate the startup and innovation ecosystems and drive meaningful change quickly. With the right partner, companies such as AB InBev can design, launch and run successful programs that are designed to last.
Working together, we were able to create a program that tied back to AB InBev’s overall corporate mission and vision, and demonstrated real results. With consumer trends moving towards more transparency and authenticity from the brands they buy from, it’s imperative to have public facing programs that align with those demands and drive business results.
AB InBev’s 100+ Sustainability Accelerator continues to run, focused on providing the best interface for startups to successfully collaborate with their organization.