by Alberto Onetti

After Enel, several companies have opened innovation outposts in Silicon Valley which brings us to the question of what is motivating this shift? The short answer is that doing innovation is a way easier in San Francisco.

Why is it essential to be in Silicon Valley?

To simplify it, here is a fun example – Why do you drink beer in a pub and not at home alone? Beer may be the same, but the ambiance and social interaction make a profound difference in having the best experience. It is for the very same reason your company needs to be in the heart of innovation to utilize your potential at best.

Italy is establishing an important presence in the Bay Area within a quick period.

In Mind the Bridge Innovation Center located in SOMA (aka South of Market Street, the major thoroughfare in San Francisco that begins at The Embarcadero in front of the Ferry Building and runs southwest through downtown, passing the Civic Center and the Castro District, to the Twin Peaks neighborhood) several companies like Eni, Terna, and recently Pelliconi, Acea, and Itagas joined Enel that opened its Innovation Hub back in 2017. Also, institutions such as the Italian insurance Industry Association ANIA (the very first trade association to do this) and Sardinia Region are now with us in the heart of Silicon Valley.

Leaders from these companies joined us at Acea Innovation Day held on the 8th of July in Rome. We asked them about “the factors that motivated them to have an Innovation Antenna in Silicon Valley.”

A fascinating question. We got some brilliant insights worth chewing over. Let me summarize the most interesting responses we got.

Innovation in Silicon Valley is less complicated.

There are hundreds of companies around the world on the hunt for innovation (over 300 out of Fortune 500). Therefore, it is hard to get attention but working methodically produces results.

“Collaborating in Silicon Valley is feasible despite distance and time zone differences. We have started more projects (POCs) than we had initially planned” said Giacomo Benedetto Silvestri, Group Head of Digital Eni.

Enel, which has had a presence in Silicon Valley since 2017 with its own Innovation Hub (coordinated until July by Fabio Tentori), regularly puts dozens of pilots on the ground every year.

Revolution: Not just in technology but above all in the business model.

Silicon Valley is the global forger of innovation that is redesigning or dismantling all sectors in the market. Paradoxically, exposure to Silicon Valley is more important for those who make the strategy for the business.

“In Silicon Valley, it is necessary to bring not only those who make technology but also the business lines, CEOs included,” said Ivan Vigolo, Chief Innovation & Information Officer Acea.

Scouting must be done actively on the ground.

“Startups and innovation cannot be found in the supplier portal”, pointed out Marco Pietrucci, Head of Innovation Terna.

It requires a structured scouting process, which is completely different from the traditional procurement methods adopted by large companies.

Remain ahead in understanding the trends.

The future is now! In Silicon Valley, you can get a preview of it. Therefore, companies and associations have an antenna in the Bay Area. To have a better understanding of market movement, for example, beverage and closures for Pelliconi. And to keep an eye on the areas which are rapidly emerging, such as mental health, in the case of ANIA.

The public sector can save money and avoid damage.

Massimo Temussi, Director of the Regional Programming Centre of the Sardinia Region, explained how the public sector needs to understand what is happening in advance to avoid missing trends. It can save them from wasting money on initiatives that are on the verge of being obsolete.

“The same rule applies to regulators” who need to properly understand trends and technologies, pointed out Umberto Guidoni, Managing Co-Director at ANIA. It is essential to avoid creating obstacles or regulatory barriers which can compromise the adoption of innovation and development of the startup ecosystem.