Larry Bird takes the ball in the middle of the court. Three bounces and he’s under the hoop. He shakes off two defenders and scores with a slam dunk that rattles the backboard. But hang on a second: what has Larry Bird – the legendary number 33 at the Boston Celtics and one of the highest scorers in the history of the NBA – got to do with the new Enel Innovation Hub?
Ernesto Ciorra, Chief Innovability Officer of the Enel Group, was on hand to explain the connection during the event on 7 May that marked the opening of the Boston Innovation Hub. This new facility is located at Greentown Labs, the USA’s largest incubator for cleantech startups, which has already provided support to more than 170 fledgling companies. “Since I was a kid, I’ve always admired Larry Bird,” explained Mr Ciorra, “because he was a great player and because he was the star of a videogame that I really liked. But also because of something he once said that really struck a chord with me: ‘It doesn’t matter who scores the points, it’s who can get the ball to the scorer’.” In other words, playing as a team is the key to winning, and it is precisely with this spirit that the new Innovation Hub was launched. It’s the tenth in a global network that extends from Russia to Israel, from Europe to the Americas. Its purpose is to attract foreign talents to contribute to the technological innovation of our Group, ensuring that Enel is at the cutting edge of progress and is competitive on the global market. And the secret to getting the all-important score? An openness towards startups, universities, research centres and winning ideas, wherever they may be.
The creativity of Boston
And when it comes to putting this philosophy into practice, Boston is the best place in the world. That at least is the view of Emily Reichert, CEO of Greentown Labs, who says: “If I were deciding for a large company like Enel, this is exactly where I would come because there is an ecosystem of technology startups that are incredibly creative and that are working relentlessly. Boston has a long tradition in this field, beginning with MIT (the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). There’s also the widespread philosophy in the city that we enjoy grappling with technological problems and solving them: the more complex, the better. And no one does it for money, it’s a personal quest: we just can’t sleep until we’ve got to grips with the matter at hand.”
As for technological challenges, our Group has a large number for Boston’s startups. Getting the ball rolling was Ciorra himself from the stage of Greentown Labs. He told the audience: “At Enel we have a dream of bringing electricity to the one billion people in the world who still do not have access to it. Can we do this alone? Of course not. We aren’t so proud as to think that we can achieve this unaided. In fact, this is a challenge that requires humility.” Ciorra went on to outline the reasoning behind the Innovation Hub: “We need people from outside, people who don’t know the energy sector as well as we do, or even people who don’t know it at all, and it is precisely for this reason that they can come up with particularly creative ideas. In the energy sector we are Larry Bird, but we need people who can pass us the ball.”
A new relationship with startups
As part of our approach to open innovation, the Hubs are the points of contact with the world of startups: through these, over the last three years (since the inauguration of the Hub in Tel Aviv), we have been able to evaluate more than 500 startups, initiating collaborations with more than 200, and applying 50 innovative solutions to our business worldwide.
A further innovative feature is the formula with which the collaboration agreements are developed. “Enel is not a venture capital fund, the Group isn’t interested in acquiring shares in a startup,” explained Luca Seletto, who will head the Innovation Hub in Boston. “What we’re actually interested in is developing an innovative product together with the startup, or collaborating in order to adapt an existing product to meet our specific needs, and then to be the first to purchase it and apply it on an industrial scale.”
More flexibility and creativity for the new services
Enel X’s CEO Francesco Venturini was also on the stage in Boston, where he outlined some more challenges for the startuppers. He explained that a Group with 73 million users, thereby supplying electricity to around half a billion people around the world through 2.2 million km of networks, does many things and has many requirements. “We don’t just produce energy, and much of what we produce has nothing to do with energy. Our business needs ever more flexibility and creativity. Considering all of the assets that we have around the world, the question is ‘How can we add value in a way that produces new services?’.” One example, explained Venturini, can be found in Colombia, where only 50% of the country’s inhabitants possess a bank account and, therefore, the possibility to use a credit card. Today, however, the credit card option is now available also to the other half of the population to whom Enel, which is already a supplier of energy in the country, now offers financial services.
Venturini continued by pointing out the megatrends that will influence the energy sector in the not too distant future, in particular urbanisation, decarbonisation, the increase in the demand for energy and digitalisation. “Enel X is working to respond to these megatrends by offering products and innovative technological services for industry, the smart city, e-homes and electric mobility. Any idea that enables us to be right at the forefront in these sectors is most welcome.”
“It’s rare to see a company with an approach to innovation that is so visionary that it is almost revolutionary,” said Federica Sereni, Italy’s Consulate General in Boston, during the inauguration of the Hub. “As an Italian, this makes me proud. Italy is industry, engineering, high-level technology and creativity. Today, in the United States, Enel represents not only what the future of energy could look like, but it’s also a vision for Italy as a whole.”