I really enjoyed my conversation with Csilla Kohalmi-Monfils, Group’s Director for Innovation Ecosystems at ENGIE (French multinational electric utility company with €60B+ in revenue and 170,000 employees).

Together with Csilla we went through the different actions ENGIE has put in place to foster innovation both through employees and startups/scaleups. They have:

  • a CVC fund: ENGIE New Ventures (size: €180M, type: evergreen)
  • a Venture Builder/Incubation program: ENGIE New Business Factory
  • a connecting Platform that manages intrapreneurship programs (Innovation Trophies), call for projects and relationships with the 25 Business Units (BUs): ENGIE Innovation

Below you can find the full video recording of our Mind the Chat I hope you will find insightful as I did. Let me spoil some key takeaways from our conversation with a focus on how ENGIE has been developing its Venture Builder (and reshaping it in the making).

“Make sure that the link with BUs is there and is there early on”

There is no point in accelerating and investing into startups if, at the end, the Business Units are not using their solutions. ENGIE Innovation is constantly making sure that the link with the BUs is there and is there early on,

“Innovation should not be limited by business as usual”

Consistently they originally set up their Venture Builder outside of ENGIE offices. But it was quite difficult leveraging the connection with the businesses. Then they decided to bring it back inside.

“You can’t create unicorns in a vacuum”

The original mandate of the Venture Builder was to build unicorns in a fully autonomous way. But then it becomes very difficult some time later to knock at the door of the BUs saying: “Here is my unicorn!”. Even more difficult the BUs will open the door smiling.

The ENGIE CVC approach of having a BU sponsor for the portfolio companies – and actual commercial relations as KPI – is showing a significant impact. To be invested by ENV startups should have preferably signed a MOU with a BU.

“There’s no centralized nor decentralized innovation”

In a big company you don’t want to centralize innovation because you risk to kill the innovative spirit. But, if you let everything decentralized, then you end up with a very fragmented landscape of small projects, rather than large projects able to bring some real impact to the group. The only thing the innovation team can do is to steer innovation by connecting the dots.

What’s the “Scalution”?

The typical outcome of the Venture Builder is collaboration between 2-3 startups and couple of internal projects. In other words we are putting together different lego blocks, i.e. the solutions brought brought by the startups we invested in and the innovation projects that are coming from inside (the Innovation Trophies, that is the ENGIE intrapreneurship program).

“We need to do more excubation rather than acceleration”

When we started there was not so much on the market. Now there are a lot of professional innovation providers you can use to build solutions.

“Nobody has the silver bullet”

At the end in open innovation you have to continuously assess what works and what doesn’t work and, as needed, change approach.