Article | Business History | January 2004

Corporate Venturing: The Origins of Unilever's Pregnancy Test

by G. Jones and Alison Kraft

Abstract

The relative ability of different sizes of firm and organisational designs to develop and sustain dynamic capabilities in innovation and create new businesses remains a matter of contention. While Chandler among many others has emphasised the pre-eminent role of large corporations as the engines of innovation over the last century, during the 'high tech' boom of the 1990s new business creation was strongly associated with entrepreneurs, start-ups, venture capitalists and angel investors. This article explores the issue of corporate innovation using a case study of new business creation within a large, established, multinational corporation. Large corporations are known to face obstacles to innovation from technological and resource lock-ins, and routine and cultural rigidities. Unilever has, since its creation in 1929, been one of Europe's largest consumer businesses, and is known in Britain for consumer brands such as Persil detergents, Flora margarine, Walls ice cream and Birds Eye fish fingers. This study focuses on this company's development of the successful home pregnancy test, Clearblue, which was launched in Britain in 1985. Clearblue was a radical technological innovation which, equally importantly, departed from Unilever's traditional markets. The focus on Clearblue casts fresh light on the problems of new business creation within large corporations and allows in-depth investigation of one organisational solution to those problems.

Keywords: Business Ventures; Organizational Design; Technological Innovation; Business Startups; Venture Capital; Brands and Branding; Multinational Firms and Management; Product Development; Product Launch; Corporate Entrepreneurship; Great Britain;

Citation:

Jones, G., and Alison Kraft. "Corporate Venturing: The Origins of Unilever's Pregnancy Test." Business History 46, no. 1 (January 2004): 100–122.