Cleantech Group‘s Greg Neichin opened up Wednesday’s panel “Startups and Corporations: Bringing Clean Technology to Market” with an important observation. The cleantech market, and certainly the broader energy energy space, is a bit different when it comes to getting big companies in the same room with startups.
“For the most part, they tend to get along,” he told a packed session.
Nike’s Dan Cherian described its approach to working with startups, and dispelled the notion that its startup relationships are purely investment-oriented.
“We don’t just do investments, we’re involved in things like licensing, joint development agreements and strategic alliances, ” Cherian explained. “Not all of our innovation happens inside the company, we think of it as strategic partnering and investing,” he added. As Cherian summarized Nike’s view, it was clear the company sees sustainability as as a growth opportunity, with Cherian saying Nike is “heavily invested” in helping the company grow through sustainable business.
Intel’s Lorie Wigle, the company’s GM of Eco-Tech, said much of its startup work is focused on energy efficiency. Specifically, her team looks at the application of technology and how to grow revenue. Wigle mentioned a joint project with KLG Systal that tackled water management. Through KLG and other partners, Intel was able to see their technology implemented in different ways, underscoring the importance of tightening up your partner network before approaching larger corporations.
“Many startups make the mistake of thinking ‘we got the meeting’ and the ”number of meetings’ are a good metric for progress,” said Yusuf. His assertion was those elements have nothing to do with success . “It gets down to can the corporation sell more of their product because of what you do.”
Nike’s Cherian concurred, urging young companies to make their objectives very clear. “If your objectives are clear, we (Nike) have the right people in place for you to interface with”, he explained. He says Nike has three or four areas set up within the company to address various segments of innovation.
“Even if you talk to the business development group or venture unit, you have to realize they might not have the decision-making capability, ” he said. “When we get a message from a company, we apply that correspondence to whichever filter is the best fit.” Cherian added one other tidbit for the startup crowd: get a recommendation. He said even the slightest nod from a known partner or third-party can help startups in the early cycles with various corporate groups.
Another key discussion was the role large corporations can play in developing industry standards.
Streetline’s Yusuf mentioned their partnership with IBM, where they’ve integrated Big Blue’s Cognos platform. He stressed how important it was to understand the dynamics of the marketplace and who’s pushing open technology.
“Startups should know who leads the market and what products are innovating, ” said Yusuf. “IBM would love to sell us a bunch of their products, but we know which pieces of their platform help us solve our customers’ problems.”
Intel’s Wigle mentioned the company’s involvement in the Smart Grid Interoperability Panel and how much intelligence it’s captured from the ecosystem as technology is commercialized. Because Intel has some much infrastructure that startups need, the company established its own incubation program, of sorts. Technology Days brings together startups in Intel’s portfolio and allows them to make their pitch. Not only can Intel share its R&D practices and standards work, but young companies get a purview of what’s coming down the technology pipe.
The panel bridged some of the standards discussion with a few examples of where data and technology are currently coming together for disruption. All of them agreed the “internet of things” was shaking things up the most around cleantech innovation. With smart sensors, advanced levels of automation, and the move to open data, companies like Fitbit and Nest were cited as two companies capitalizing on the standards push.
If startups should come away with anything, it’s take the time to get your ship in order before approaching the big guys. If you’re focused, have the right partners, and understand protocol, they’re listening.
Image via Wikipedia
One way to get people to perk up about energy efficiency is to pit them against their neighbors. Engadget has details on a feature of Nissan’s Carwings system that displays the habits of highly effective drivers of the Nissan Leaf. It’ll take a while, but having this kind of data so accessible for our cars and homes will help all of us keep better tabs on our energy consumption.
“As the cars are now rolling out to eager owners we’re learning more about just what its Carwings system can do and another neat trick is the "Regional Rankings" page, where one driver’s driving efficiency is rated against others in the area.
There’s some good stuff coming out of the GridWise Gloabl Forum, particularly insight from some of the larger vendors. IBM’s chief Sam Palmisano says IBM is taking its own reigns and pushing standards and getting others involved around the smart grid supply chain. Just as important, was Palmisano’s declaration that everyone needs to take the initiative, regardless of how policy and markets are being shaped.
“Palmisano said that making the energy system smarter is in everyone’s interest because it addresses the economy, geopolitical issues related to energy, and global climate change. People in industry do not need to wait for the government or other top-down directives to get started, he said.”
One of the other notable comments was Palmisano’s opposition to consumer ‘dashboards’ – commonly mentioned as a web-based way for utility customers to easily view energy consumption.
That could be taken a couple of ways. One, it’s right in line with the piecemeal approach that IBM criticizes. Some of us early adopters might salivate at all that data at our fingertips, but most people have enough real life and virtual dashboards already, so thinking that’s a silver bullet is pretty naive.
Ultimately, providers will have to render data and usage around the way all of us realistically use data and information, probably starting with bits and pieces online (next to our statements) and on mobile devices.
Anything relegated as another online silo and not incorporated around larger usage patterns will die on the vine. Unfortunately in my experience, utility companies don’t do a very good job at things like bill presentment and online customer service. Clearly, those are some of the things that get companies like Big Blue excited.
Let’s hope others join Big Green, um, Big Blue.
Taking cars completely off the grid is tough. But a couple of recent developments paint a pretty positive picture of where things might be headed. CNET reports that several companies in Japan have teamed up for some grid-free EV charging.
Mazda, Think Global, EnerDel, and Itochu are testing charging units that power things up by storing the sun’s energy.
Solar panels attached to stationary grid-storage units designed by EnerDel will also have rapid-charging stations for the all-electric cars. The stationary storage units, gleaning and storing electricity from solar panels, will supply almost entirely solar-generated electricity for the cars.
And not to be undone, some University of Kansas students, sustainably known as the EcoHawks, had some of its efforts highlighted in Wired recently. Sounds like the EcoHawks need to sync up with some U.S. carmakers.
The group of green engineers call themselves the EcoHawks and envision a future filled with plug-in hybrids just like the one theirs. But they know the best energy is renewable energy, so the EcoHawks accepted the challenge of taking their car off the grid. That explains the six monocrystalline solar cells on the roof of their workshop (shown above). The panels charge a battery bank the car plugs into when it needs a charge.
Photo: University of Kansas EcoHawks