Cranfield University recently hosted its third Unilever Innovation Accelerator; an opportunity for its students to develop solutions to business challenges and to contribute to the development of the next generation of ice cream and tea products.

The winning team, 'Unity', (Krystallia Klonara, Andreas Batsilas, Anish Mishra, Anas Adem and Sarah Bayach) was awarded the first prize of £5,000. The runners-up, The Incredibles and KeriChai, each received £1,000.

Dr Stephanie Hussels, Director of the Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship at Cranfield University, said: “The Unilever Accelerator has become a real highlight in the Cranfield calendar as it not only allows students from the technical and management schools to work together and apply their learning to real practical challenges, it also allows them to interact and receive mentoring from a leading global player in the industry. The relationship between Cranfield and Unilever shows academia and industry's power to train and develop the next generation.”

The hard-fought competition began in January with more than 300 applicants from students across the University who were presented with three real-life challenges by Unilever’s ice cream and tea research and development experts. 

The submissions were then shortlisted to the nine most promising teams who spent six weeks developing their innovative solutions with intensive coaching support from Cranfield’s Bettany Centre for Entrepreneurship, the Centre for Competitive and Creative Design and mentors from the Environment and Agrifood theme, together with individual mentoring from Unilever. 

Paul Quinlan, Transformation and Strategy R&D Director, Tea Category at Unilever, commented: “Every year is different, and this was no exception, but again the quality of the work done and the enthusiasm of the students was palpable. The planning from Cranfield was a masterclass in slick and efficient organisation.”

The Accelerator concluded with a close-run finale. The nine teams had just seven minutes to pitch their ideas to an executive judging panel of ice cream, tea and commercialisation experts from Unilever and Cranfield. Judges included Unilever’s senior executives Andy Sztehlo (Global R&D Vice President, Ice Cream) and Zbigniew Lewicki (Global R&D Vice President, Beverages) and Dr Vasilis Theoharakis, Professor of Strategic Marketing at Cranfield School of Management.

Krystallia Klonara from the winning team, said: “The Unilever Innovation Accelerator has been a very intense and rewarding experience that has involved hours of research, brainstorming and mentoring. Our diverse mentors helped us shape our idea into a business proposal that reflects Unilever's identity, Cranfield's expertise, and our own passion and vision. Through this journey, I met fellow students, professors, and industry experts all of whom are now part of my extended ULA family.”

Anish Mishra, also on Team Unity, added: "The competition was very challenging but also rewarding, giving me a hands-on experience of creating innovative solutions for a real business case. The feedback and guidance from the mentors were very insightful and allowed me to reflect on our ideas throughout the process."

Andy Sztehlo, Unilever Global R&D Vice President, Ice Cream, commented: “We have a long-standing collaboration with Cranfield University and this competition has been a great opportunity to deepen our relationship and to explore new partnership opportunities. We were delighted with the enthusiasm to work on our ice cream and tea innovation agenda and the quality of the work done by the teams. It was a great event with some exciting ideas that we will explore further with the winning teams.”