Enel, a multinational energy company and a leading integrated player in the world’s power, gas and renewables markets has opened up an innovation hub in Israel, and chosen SOSA as its partner and base for corporate open innovation. We sat down with the Innovation Hub General Manager, Eran Levy, to get his insights after Enel’s first 18 months of operations at SOSA and to hear why they chose Israel as the first place to establish their innovation activity.
Firstly, tell us a bit about Enel.
Enel began in Italy in 1962 and has made innovation the cornerstone of its industrial strategy. The Enel Group operates in over 30 countries across four continents and uses open innovation as one its pillars to help establish market leadership. We supply electricity to over 65 million business and household customers worldwide – making us the largest energy supplier among European competitors. At Enel, we also focus largely on sustainability which is why our green energy division is the world’s number one multinational renewable energy player. Smart Meters and Smart Grids play a huge part in our drive for innovation. We employ over 65,000 employees all over the world and have raised 100 billion in revenue. We are very proud to say that we were ranked 5th on the Fortune Change the World list and 84th on the Fortune 500. Recently, we were ranked 9th on the World’s Best Companies To Work With and ranked 1st in Italian companies. Enel is a fantastic company to work for and the results speak for themselves.
Clearly, Enel defines innovation as a core strategy and operates in light of this. Please share a few examples with us.
At Enel we have an open innovation philosophy that brings us together with cutting-edge startups who are developing new ideas and products that fit the Group’s industrial strategy. Through our new open innovation approach, Enel is teaming up with more than 85 startups and some of the world’s leading universities.
That’s one way we harness open innovation. But in the past, for example, we were the first utility company to introduce Smart Meters and Smart Grids which has made us the world’s number one operator in this field. Later, this encouraged our smart city projects, where smart energy solutions have been integrated into urban infrastructures in several cities such as Italy, Spain, Brazil and Chile. Again, as I mentioned earlier, innovation around sustainability is hugely important to Enel which is why we have installed roughly 3,500 charging stations for electric vehicles worldwide, all remotely managed and controlled in real time through Enel’s Electric Mobility Management System.
Sounds like some fantastic projects. So why did Enel choose to open their first global innovation hub in Israel? What was the vision and how did you achieve it?
With open innovation as our strategy, it only made sense to come to Israel. You always hear about Israel as a startup nation and how dense the ecosystem is and it’s all true. Israel is at the center of innovation, so it was vital for Enel to hold a presence here. In Israel, we wanted to connect the different divisions within Enel to the best startups and to become a relevant player in the innovation ecosystem, including partnerships with venture capital funds, accelerators and incubators.
So, as part of our innovation strategy, we scout for high-potential startups that are developing new business models and solutions. Enel is reaching out as an industrial partner for startups, providing its knowledge, expertise, laboratories and people to give the fledgling companies a chance to develop their solutions with the Group, who will also act as a final customer once the technologies are fully realized. As a corporation, we wanted the innovation hub to act as an agile engine within the company – enabling our innovation process to run faster and be deployed across the company.
What does it take to open an innovation hub in a foreign country with no operations and from scratch?
Firstly, you need to have your network know what you’re doing and what you’re looking for. The best opportunities come from people you already know or knew in the past. To expand your network you should connect and collaborate with strong players in the relevant ecosystem who can support you with reaching out to the right startups and potential partners.
For us, this was SOSA. Since they’ve already built a network of open innovation, our presence at SOSA allows us to be more visible to startups and vice versa. It also means that we get access to the cream of the crop in new technologies and it makes it simple for us to connect to them which is invaluable.
Once your network is set, you can start generating deal flow and work on making the right matches between the startups and the different business stakeholders within the company.
This requires a lot of research, both internal and external. Internal research means working with each one of the business units around the world to better understand their work, technology, challenges, business strategy, future plans and priorities. External research involves reaching out to the market and studying the competition, existing solutions, emerging trends, new technologies and business models, and then identifying what would be the best choices for your company.
Once you’ve made the right win-win match, the value is clear to the parties, and there’s a collaboration agreement in place, then the road becomes clear for a pilot, commercialization and go to market.
Our activity in Israel is now expanding. After winning the Israeli Innovation Authority tender for Innovation Labs, we are now in the process of setting up our first R&D lab in Haifa, focused on Smart Infrastructure, which is a major part of the 4.0 industrial revolution global trend. Our lab will support early stage startups in developing new applications, services and products on our platform on-site, which will also include a unique infrastructure that is not available for startups elsewhere, like micro-grid and emulators, for example.
Enel has continued to expand to many other locations… Tell us about that.
So far we have expanded to Silicon Valley, Moscow, Madrid, Rio, and Chile. Our goal is to create a global network of innovation hubs that will be able to work together and share knowledge and deal flow. In 2016, Enel invested around 60 million euros in 300 innovation projects, striking over 114 agreements with other leading companies and we know that this will only keep growing. By 2020, Enel will have invested 4.5 billion euros in the digital transformation of the Grid.
Setting up a network of innovation hubs around the world increases our exposure to the most dynamic and innovative startup ecosystems which not only enhances Enel’s operations, but also supports startups in their ventures and encourages open innovation for the future. We aim to touch real people’s lives by creating trends that will make a global impact.
If you are the CEO of a disruptive startup, relevant to Enel’s core activities, please contact Alona Shaked at: email@example.com