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How Unilever is working to find the next billion-dollar idea—for a fraction of the cost

Forking over a billion dollars to acquire a five-year-old company can't come easy.

That's what Unilever did when it purchased Dollar Shave Club last year. Now, the consumer products conglomerate is seeking outside innovation by launching its own co-working space in its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore.

The space, LEVEL3, is an open collaboration area that can host as many as 50 startups and is connected by an open staircase to main Unilever offices.

"Speed of innovation has never been faster," Paul Polman, Unilever's CEO, told a crowd at the opening of the space. "It's confusing a lot of companies. It's confusing a lot of individuals."

"Increasingly, ideas are coming from outside of just the four walls of Unilever," said Jonathan Hammond, who heads the company's platform to engage with startups, Unilever Foundry. "There's a need for us to engage and work with those people from outside Unilever."

Unilever's LEVEL3 co-working space in Singapore
CNBC
Unilever's LEVEL3 co-working space in Singapore

Individuals and small companies can apply for space and will be charged anywhere from $300 per month for a desk to $3,000 for a small office.

Ben & Jerry's, a Unilever brands, set up several desks in the space, with hopes that the brand will partner with some of the startups in some capacity.

Snapcart, an Indonesian reward-based e-commerce platform, is looking to expand in Singapore and chose the new space to set up shop.

"What's important for us is that we have access to multinational companies," Reynazran Royono, Snapcart's founder and CEO, told CNBC.

But not all multinationals looking to capitalize on entrepreneurs are succeeding. Coca-Cola recently shut down its Founders program, which was meant to nurture young startups on the hope of passing innovation into its own company.