Scouting in Silicon Valley
Enel has inaugurated its second Innovation Hub at the University of California at Berkeley, San Francisco. It is a talent incubator which, following the one in Tel Aviv, will open the door for the energy multinational to the heart of Silicon Valley, one of the largest centres of technological innovation in the world, just a few miles away from the headquarters of Facebook, in Menlo Park, and Google, in Mountain View.
The idea, as in the case of the accelerator in Tel Aviv and of those that Enel plans to open by the end of the year in other countries, is to explore the world of local technology start-ups (not necessarily limited to the energy sector) from an exclusive vantage point to select and start collaborations with the most promising ones. The goal is to open the company to the infinite opportunities for growth that may be hidden in the galaxy of ideas, creativity, and projects that are still at an embryonic stage or hidden in a drawer somewhere in Silicon Valley. It is a road without curves and without speed limits to innovate, and thus to become increasingly stronger and more competitive on the market.
“Connecting the dots”
The new incubator at Berkeley (opened at the Citris Foundry, a university lab that works on dozens of projects every month) will draw the most interesting start-ups for Enel.
“Yet another piece of a global ecosystem which, once completed, will enable us to bring together talents to create a network where ideas can take shape, be exchanged from one part of the planet to the other and be quickly developed: in other words, a structure that, to use Steve Jobs’ famous words, will allow us to connect the dots”
Ernesto Ciorra, Director of Innovation and Sustainability at Enel
As stated by the Group’s Director of Communications, Ryan O'Keeffe, Enel has no intention of buying the start-ups that it will select: the plan is to provide for acceleration through support by company engineers and technicians. If after the support received, the start-up manages to develop a useful product, at that point Enel will be the first to assess the possibility of buying it.
But what does “connecting the dots” mean in actual fact? Ciorra explained by providing a telling example: “Years ago, we got in touch with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to understand if there was a way to combine geothermal energy with solar energy in a single power plant to maximise the energy potential of a location that offered the right conditions. Some time later, the way to do it came from one of the start-ups we had selected and accelerated, and more importantly at much lower costs. Today that project has become a reality: it is called Stillwater and it is located in the Nevada desert, in the United States. It is the first plant of its kind in the world.”
Isolation is not an option
This is perhaps the best answer to the provocative question that Henry Chesbrough, Professor of Economics at Berkeley and author of the theory of Open Innovation, asked the public—including the Italian Consul in San Francisco—attending the inauguration of the innovation hub: “Why should a company like Enel, with 67,000 employees worldwide, come to California in search of collaborations with small start-ups established by three people? Well, it is very simple,” continued Chesbrough. “Some say that the best talents never work for you. That’s why. For a company like Enel, isolation and thinking that it can innovate by finding ideas only within the company would not only be arrogant: it would be suicide.”
Innovating is an imperative for Enel which for some time now has charted a strategy in this direction in a market that is changing at an incredible speed.
“Had someone told me a few years ago that one day I would be sitting at a table to think about joint projects with the car industry, I would never have believed them,”said Francesco Venturini, Head of Enel's Global Renewable Energies Division. “And yet that is precisely what I am doing: a crucial collaboration to develop the electric mobility sector with new products and new services and therefore to adapt to new market demands. And for a company there can be no effective adaptation without profound innovation.”