Why the big boys have to join in
Super scout in the start-up scene: keeping a close eye on the future
by Glenn Bijvoets, Ideation & Venturing at Eneco Smart Energy
I may well have one of the nicest jobs in the entire Eneco Group: I’m a start-up scout. Basically, my job involves peering into the future, scanning the horizon for interesting new trends. What kind of developments can we see in the field of energy innovations? And, of course, where can we find them? And like a football scout, you can forget about scoring the best talents from behind your desk. You need to check out the pitches. Because that’s where it’s happening: research universities, universities of applied sciences, knowledge institutes and even the proverbial garden shed. I never cease to be amazed by all the new developments – in technology and in other fields too. New technologies are going to have a huge impact on the ways in which we develop materials and store, generate and share energy. For example, recently, I was talking with the crew from PowerWindow. They’re studying how you can generate energy using a special coating on panes of glass. A very interesting prospect. In the near future, you may well be able to use your kitchen or bedroom window to generate solar power. One example of the many interesting initiatives I run into.
I do admit: the agile start-up crowd occasionally don’t know what to make of us – this huge energy company. In the eyes of many young entrepreneurs, we’re the guys who need to tick all the boxes first, and are bogged down in internal politics. Corporations are more or less synonymous with ‘slow and rigid’. Which I understand to a point, but at second glance, it’s a bit of a paradox: after all, those start-ups want to become big companies too, right? And that’s one of the reasons why we – whether we’re large or small – need each other. It’s precisely thanks to our size that we can offer our partners market knowledge and other expertise, 2.1 million customers, opportunities to scale up, and capital – although the latter isn’t even the most important factor. And vice versa, we need start-ups too. Otherwise, how could we, as Eneco Group, ever hope to accelerate the transition to clean energy? When it comes to energy, we may know a lot, but we know far from everything. That’s where innovations and daring, enthusiastic entrepreneurs come in.
That’s why we – my colleagues and I – are active in a wide range of start-up ecosystems, the communities that start-ups operate in. Every day, we expand our network in these communities, but we are really there for entrepreneurs too. We support and guide energy innovators in all sorts of incubator and accelerator programmes, including YES!Delft, the Start-up Bootcamp and Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship. I personally serve as a mentor at Rockstart and HighTechXL. And while I may not be an entrepreneur myself, I can support participants with specific sector-related knowledge. Or help them get in touch with interesting parties in Eneco Group’s extensive network.
But we can develop our partnerships even further – after all, ours is a tailored approach. For example, we can serve as the launching customer for a new product. Or set up a pilot project together, like we did last year with the start-up Nerdalize. We invited five family households to test the eRadiator – a radiator and computer server in one – and the three entrepreneurs are currently developing a new version based on our insights. An example that ‘goes the other way round’ is Peeeks, which specialises in matching sustainable energy supply and demand. This idea was actually developed within Eneco Group, but we were so enthusiastic that we went in search of entrepreneurs who could pick up on it. A spin-off, in other words. A perfect example of a project in which all partners can dedicate themselves to taking things to the next level.
Do these collaborations run smoothly? Yes and no – because we come from two different worlds. But if we see eye to eye and strike the right balance, we tend to get results. And by jointly exploring ‘the question behind the question’, you gain a better understanding of each other – which often leads to fantastic projects that are strategically interesting for everyone involved. We join forces and move forward into the future together. I get a huge kick out of this. And yes: that’s why I think I have one of the nicest jobs in the entire Eneco Group.