Enel Innovation Hubs, the startup network for ideas

Published on Monday, 17 December 2018

“This is the role we want to play: to be an industrial partner for startups, one which allows them to test their innovation with us, to launch that innovation thanks to us and to sell their innovation to us and our customers”

– Ernesto Ciorra, Chief Innovability Officer at Enel

After just over two years, this international network already consists of 9 Innovation Hubs and is set to grow further. Three of them are situated in ecosystems with a strong emphasis on innovation: Silicon Valley (California, USA), Tel Aviv (Israel) and the technology park at Skolkovo, the Russian city of innovation on the outskirts of Moscow. Others are located in countries where Enel has a strong commercial presence: Madrid (Spain), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Santiago (Chile). The centre in Catania (Italy) is an Enel Innovation Hub&Lab because it started in the Passo Martino laboratories, a crown jewel in terms of Enel’s technological research in the field of renewable energy; the Innovation Hub&Lab of the Global Thermal Generation Business Line is based in the Italian capital of research, Pisa, and the Hub&Lab in Milan is focussed on infrastructure and network technology.

Each hub acts as a nerve centre and point of reference for the startups in its geographical and economic range, and belonging to the Enel network provides added value: the hubs have the opportunity to connect and work together, thereby gaining in additional experience. In this way, the potential visibility of the innovative ideas coming out of the areas is multiplied as it moves from a single, local hub to an international network.

Startups ready for take off

An Innovation Hub is a physical space where the startups can meet and present their projects to Enel: to date, 450 candidates have been carefully evaluated from approximately 4,000, while there are already 170+ active projects, with more than 45 being readied for market.

Enel offers the selected startups all the necessary tools for take off: technology consultancy from experts (both internal and external to the Group, in true Open Power spirit), access to our network of partners (including investors) and the chance to test innovations in our laboratories or plants. Moreover, Enel opens up the opportunity for moving to the scale up phase, with a potential market that includes the entire Enel Group, plus partners, clients and suppliers.

“We use our Innovation Hubs to bring the best startups to work with us. We tell them what we are looking for and we expect them to come with solutions that we can develop together”

– Fabio Tentori, Head of Enel Innovation Hubs and Startup Initiatives

There is also a further option. If there are innovative solutions that are particularly well adapted to the Group’s needs, Enel can suggest buying the startup. This happened with two American companies, for example: eMotorWerks, leader in the supply of services and infrastructures for e-vehicles, and EnerNoc, global leader in the demand response sector. This energy service contributes to the stabilisation of the electricity grid through the active participation of large clients.

We want the impossible

Many highly innovative products that have greatly contributed to Enel’s activities on all levels have come from our collaboration with startups: from the airbag jacket for technicians working in the field, to the audio/video conversion system in call centres assisting our hard of hearing customers, the security drones that monitor the plant of Torrevaldaliga and the hydrogen electricity storage system established in Cerro Pabellón (Chile). The V2G (Vehicle-to-Grid) system that allows e-vehicles to transfer their excess electricity to the grid, transforming them into mobile batteries, was created through a collaboration like this and has since been exported throughout the world.

Some of our projects are so futuristic that they prompt reactions of wonder or confusion. This is precisely what happened, for example, with the hybrid power plant at Stillwater (Nevada, USA) which provides a mixture of geothermal, photovoltaic and thermodynamic solar energy. Even MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) deemed the project impossible, but it was completed and now wins awards. As Ciorra explains, “when they tell us that something is impossible, we try to do it.”