Enel’s Open Innovation Sets a Positive Example

Published on Friday, 25 March 2016

Collaborations between big companies, startups and scale-ups play an increasingly important role.

In a global context where technology and business models are rapidly evolving, the ability to identify and capture the most innovative solutions flourishing outside their company perimeter becomes the only way to ride the innovation wave. And not be crushed.

It is therefore strategic for all multinational companies to initiate collaborations with the global fabric of start-ups and scale-ups, especially in the digital field. The process surely poses some obstacles; a process that Enel has promoted at an internal level, setting the stage for cultural change. It is this approach that has led to the concept of Innovability – adopted by Enel’s Head of Innovation & Sustainability, Ernesto Ciorra – meaning the ability to innovate, openness to ideas and thus knowing how to change perspectives where necessary.

It is precisely these values, which have been transformed into an integrated operating model with all of the Group’s business lines (from traditional to renewable power generation, grids and the market), that have turned Enel’s experience into an example for other companies, according to a study that was recently published by the British organisation Nesta, entitled "Scaling Together. Overcoming Barriers in Corporate Start-up Collaboration".

Nesta’s analysis explains, through examples of successful multinational groups, how the key to allowing young companies to grow and big companies to seize the best opportunities for innovation, lies in the ability to work together, overcoming structural and cultural barriers. Businesses with a greater ability to interact and co-create value are far more likely to maintain a competitive status and not be overwhelmed by new technologies and trends, which today means above all digitisation.

That's how we became a case study, thanks to our ability to overcome structural and cultural barriers, defining a process to simplify and accelerate collaborations with start-ups. Our dynamic approach is based on five steps: Preliminary screenings, entrusted to the holding Innovation Venture Team, which evaluates innovative ideas, collected through a dedicated web platform (www.startup.enel.com) and submits those deemed best to the Group’s different business line experts. Advisory Board judgment, if the feedback on a start-up is positive, the Advisory Board may decide to proceed with the due diligence phase. Commercial due diligence, in which the impact, costs and benefits of a collaborative project are assessed. Structuring the deal, defining all aspects of the partnership agreement with the start-up. Final Approval, once the terms of the agreement are established, the project is subject to a final approval on behalf of the Innovation Committee, chaired by the Group’s CEO.

To create a “fast track” to facilitate innovative agreements, we then defined a precise timing schedule, encouraging all internal representatives involved in the process to provide prompt feedback, thus creating a legal team specialised in contracts with start-ups. However, one of the strengths of our model, according to Nesta’s study, is its having placed the entire process under the direct supervision of senior management, in order to promote an open and proactive attitude from the top and within the group towards the outside.

As explained by Carlo Napoli, Enel’s Head of Open Innovation Culture and Project Portfolio, in the Nesta study: “You can’t change culture in a single day, but you can find change agents within the company with the ability to inspire other colleagues with their enthusiasm.”