The venture capital outfit is looking for fresh initiatives, but mad inventors and me-too operators need not apply. Says Coombs: "Lots of people come to us with things that have already been done which we're not interested in, while others approach us with stuff that's so far into the future, like mood altering foods, untested, unapproved. We're looking for something in-between."
"We would much prefer someone to come to us with an idea they've invested in that is a small activity already ­ a business with a turnover of a few hundred thousand pounds. Someone with just an idea on a piece of paper would have to work pretty hard to say why we should invest in it."
Coombs is clear about what he doesn't want. Emphatically: "No ready meal concepts." And he is equally clear on areas that do interest him ­ products for the greying population ("It's a real opportunity as there's nothing bigger than Saga holidays") and for the obese ("The solution might be better than just food products"). Products and methods to help women look younger also get a thumbs up.
Unilever Ventures currently has six embryonic businesses, 10 projects and dozens of ideas on the go, but Coombs is not looking for new fmcg products, rather new channels. This means it isn't directly competing with the supermarkets. "We're more about opening up new areas."
While the core Unilever company concentrates on its power brands, Unilever Ventures invests in and nurtures new business ideas and has 140m over the next three years to spend on developing them. Projects will each get 11­2m to help with marketing, R&D and supply chain.
Coombs expects the outfit to have a real impact on Unilever in five to 10 years' time. "Then, we'd like to think that two or three things we've done will become new service areas."
Its Rocket chilled ready meal kit kiosks at key points in the capital are a good example of an initative which is already off the ground, with outlets in stations and a future link-up with Sodexho to sell them in workplaces.
But Coombs is pragmatic about its success: "It will only work when it reaches economies of scale ­ 100 Rockets starts to make money."
Unilever Ventures gets half its ideas from outside and half from its own staff who mainly utilise the knowledge or brands it already has.
But why should a small businessman go to Unilever? "The name attracts people as we've got an honest reputation," reckons Coombs. "We're prepared to operate in a risky space and have Unilever's expertise."
There's also the added appeal that the company might buy the concept once it proves successful ­ a possibility which appeals to entrepreneurs. But he admits that when a businessman comes to the outfit, it can take longer than they imagine to go through the process of getting their idea up and running. And they also have to think about the general risk their new, innovative concept might get copied. "You have to get into the legal stuff about funding and control, you negotiate over money and ownership ­ the length of time varies depending on the deal. Someone who's taken a risk themselves will get much more value."
He admits that if you look hard enough, you will find someone in the world who has already had the idea, but that in some respects this can be a good thing, because its worth has been proved.
The London office covers other parts of the world, including the US and Europe, and Coombs says there could be a crossover of ideas, for example, in Spain there are Ponds Institute day spas ­ an initiative which has proved successful.
However, Unilever Ventures isn't expecting any set level of return on its investment, and Coombs says simply that its job is to set up initiatives that Unilever might pick up in the long term.
"Venture capitalists usually have lots of money but they are hard nosed and have a paucity of ideas." Unilever Ventures, however, is evidently different. For a start, it works with Langholm Capital ­ a fellow venture capital fund which operates out of the same modern central London office. It is a venture fund, funded by Unilever, which gets involved in projects at a much earlier stage.
Both outfits, plus a set-up in California investing in new technology, makes up Unilever's three-pronged attack on innovation.
Coombs is frank about the outlook overall and is prepared to mention failures, such as internet cleaning venture My Home. "The strategy was good, but we didn't get the execution right."
But his positivity and realism mean both he and the Blackfriars head office are clear about their ambitions for the future.
"We know the majority will fail, and I'm happy with that, because the ones that will succeed have the potential to be very big."