When dealing with such a large and urgent challenge like the energy transition, nobody – not even the giants – can do it alone: startups are the only way to accelerate the innovation journey and find solutions quickly. This is, in a nutshell, the key message that emerged from the first Corporate Startup Stars Roundtable that we, as Mind the Bridge, organized in Barcelona last Thursday by bringing together the innovation managers of big corporates like: Oscar Cantelejo, Head of Corporate Venturing & Open Innovation at Iberdrola; Claudio Farina, Executive VP Strategy, Innovation & Sustainability at Snam; Sandra Blázquez Borrás, Head of Open Innovation at Repsol; Angelo Rigillo, Head of Open Innovation, Hubs and Startups at Enel Group, and  Emilio Martinez Gavira, Entrepreneurship & Open Innovation Director at Enagás.

The topic was clear: today energy companies are facing a growing need to innovate and find new ways to deliver sustainable and clean energy solutions. From reducing carbon emissions to adopting new technologies, the energy industry is in a state of constant evolution, and startups are becoming more and more strategic. However, methods and tools for collaboration with them are changing day by day.

So how can companies collaborate with startups and foster an intrapreneurial culture to unlock innovation? Below are some of the main highlights from the roundtable:

Open innovation requires the adoption of multiple tools

Nowadays all the players are covering almost all Open Innovation tools. Some companies continue to cover them all, others are becoming more selective” commented Angelo Rigillo, CEO of Enel Innovation Hubs.

Corporate Accelerators are fading.

Accelerators are among the tools that are experiencing increasing disengagement. Why? The startups that come out of these programs are not ready (they are too early stage) to be integrated into companies.

The Venture Client remains the main tool for onboarding innovation

The Venture Client (i.e. the commercial collaboration with startups, where the company becomes their customer) mainly targets structured startups (the so-called scaleups) and produces results when properly implemented. That means having, on the one hand, a global scouting engine capable of processing a deal flow of thousands of companies per year and, on the other hand, an organizational structure with innovation people inside the business units (e.g. the Innovation Managers in Enel).

From Horizon to Horizon 2 and 3

The Venture Client model is well serving the so-called Horizon 1 (i.e. innovating the core business). However, “we need to shift more towards the long-term. Some tools allow it, others do not.” Rigillo highlighted. Corporate Venture Capital and Venture Builder are the best tools to nurture the long-term innovation vision.

The CVC is for long-term strategy

There is no need to invest in startups when the goal is to activate collaborations (the Venture Client works great here). “You have to invest ahead of business”. Having a CVC fund is an option limited to big companies, given that the average size fund ranges between 250 million to one billion euros. However, “Investing in a third-party fund can provide knowledge of technology, deal flow, and insight into an industry vertical that may become relevant in the future.” said Oscar Cantelejo, Head of Corporate Venturing & Open Innovation at Iberdrola.

The Venture Builders: known unknowns

Everyone wants it, but currently there are very few implementations and most of them are quite new. So proceed with caution as the jury is still out!

Intrapreneurship is becoming more selective

We continue to gather innovation ideas from our employees but we have recently narrowed down the challenges to much more specific topics.”, Emilio Martinez Gavira, Entrepreneurship & Open Innovation Director of Enagás reported. Enagás is one of the first companies to launch an internal entrepreneurship initiative. While in the early days it was important to involve as many employees as possible (and therefore having broad challenges), over time programs evolved, becoming more and more selective.

Accepting the risk

We need to work on the culture of innovation and risk acceptance,” said Sandra Blázquez Borrás, Head of Open Innovation at Repsol. Many companies, especially in the energy sector, are designed to guarantee no service interruption. This means that in general errors are not tolerated at all. This approach, when applied to innovative projects, is a serious blocking factor. When a company is always successful, it is not doing anything new. Innovation requires risk-taking and the willingness to fail and learn from those failures.

Open innovation: the era of marketing is gone. It’s time for results.

Today we need to bring home tangible results and have KPIs to track them”. Claudio Farina, Executive VP Strategy, Innovation & Sustainability of Snam concluded. Large companies are gearing up to have structured systems for measuring the impact of innovation activities (both on the P&L and strategy) certified by third parties (to avoid self-referencing).

Open innovation is a must, even though it is forging a new path from what we are used to. Look ahead, and do not cut and paste from the past.