Energy start-ups seem to be focusing on solar power, storage, material sciences, and on the interface between automation and energy, such as big data, mobile internet and e-commerce applications. That’s the picture that emerges from the successful submissions of startups to the New Energy Challenge 2017, which is preparing for a grand finale on 28 September in Amsterdam. Geert van de Wouw, Managing Director of Shell Technology Ventures, one of the three organisers of the contest, is impressed by what the startups have to offer.
Finalists of the New Energy Challenge 2017 had better practice their pitches more than once, before they appear, end of September, in Amsterdam in front of a critical jury. “Candidates must indicate, firstly, the uniqueness of their propositions. Secondly, the impact on the new energy domain when scaled up. And thirdly, why their management team is best positioned to actually evolve their propositions towards success. And all of this succinctly, yes!”, warns Geert van de Wouw.
Remarkably, among the 20 finalists, only one start-up submitted an innovation related to wind power
Van de Wouw is managing director of Shell Technology Ventures (STV) and one of the initiators of the New Energy Challenge, next to incubator organisations Rockstart and Yes!Delft. This year, the 2ndedition of this high-tech contest brings together the fine fleur of disruptors and innovators in a wide range of low-carbon energy technologies. From 24 to 28 September, 20 start-ups from Europe and Israel will compete in Amsterdam to reach finals day. They follow an exhaustive program of training sessions, key notes, coaching, all with one goal: fine-tuning their pitches, propositions and business models. On 28 September, during the 3 start-ups will be selected by a jury as the numbers one, two and three.
At stake is a 100,000 euro convertible loan, as well as one year support and advice from the STV-team. “In fact, we open up our Rolodex for the winning team, getting them in touch with the main energy players inside and outside Shell”, says Van de Wouw. The numbers 2 and 3 will receive, besides a cash prize, a chance to enter one of the accelerator programs of Rockstart and YesDelft!
Initially 246 start-ups active in domains as diverse as solar, hydropower, storage, big data, load balance or hydrogen submitted their technical inventions, software programmes or new business models. Only 20 survived a rigorous selection for the end game. Their propositions had to meet three important criteria: Being effective, being profitable in the future, and able of being scaled up globally.
The submitted plans offer a representative sample of activities in today’s energy innovations. Remarkably, among the 20 finalists, only one start-up submitted an innovation related to wind power.
“In fact, the submissions reflect fairly well the trends in today’s new energy domain,” says Van de Wouw. “Wind innovation is dominated by big corporates, because it’s capital intensive and not so well suited for venturing. Globally, we see disruptive technology trends and innovative business models. On the crossroads of these, interesting things happen. We closely monitor what happens in the field of advanced robotics and autonomous technologies, energy storage and material science, mobile internet and e-commerce. Venturing responds to these developments. And that is where STV wants to tap in.”
“This is a dispersed ecosystem, it’s quite difficult for us to get a feel with who is investing in what domain, and why”
Venturing is the buzz word of the New Energy challenge. It explains why the contest raises high expectations, not only among the candidates, but also among the Shell Technology Ventures team. Indeed, ‘Stevie’ as STV is called by insiders, is Shell’s SUV for exploring the new energy ecosystems emerging off the beaten tracks of oil and gas.
An article on Energy Post last June illustrated the company’s efforts to keep up with the rapidly changing energy landscape. STV plays a key role, by taking strategic positions in new energy start-ups and eventually making profit out of it when markets mature. “This is a dispersed ecosystem, it’s quite difficult for us to get a feel with who is investing in what domain, and why”, says Van de Wouw.
So, you might say the New Energy Challenge is one big scouting party for STV to cope with its relative inexperience in the new energy domain. Yet there is another complicating factor: participating start-ups are themselves so young, that it becomes even more difficult to determine who among them will present the game-changing technology or business model in the future ecosystem.
“We normally invest in enterprises that already have paying customers, are post-revenue,” says Van de Wouw. “But New Energy Challenge participants are really early stage start-ups, not older than 5 years, that rely heavily on seed capital.”
This is where Yes!Delft and Rockstart come in as active partners of the challenge. They offer early stage start-up supporting programs, training sessions, workshops and more, in order to create successful companies. This is why the managing directors of both start-up accelerators are among the jury of the New Energy Challenge, next to Van de Wouw.
“You can’t always unite them, but both technical and business model innovation are important”
“Rockstart and Yes!Delft look in a different way at these start-ups. They may have less experience in energy, but they know by experience what management team typically belongs to an early stage start-up. Is a management team able to let a company grow? As incubators, based on their unique experience, they sense whether start-ups will succeed or fail. That is why they are important to us, we can learn from their experience.”
This stress on the quality of management teams and business models as an important ‘winning feature’ in the New Energy Challenge may present a certain ambiguity in the contest. Some candidates presented mere technical innovations, others offered more service-oriented business. Heliac for example developed a technique for high temperature solar power generation. OEEX developed an open energy exchange where all kinds of actors in the energy system can participate. Isn’t this comparing apples and oranges in one and the same contest?
Van de Wouw admits it is. “That is why we cooperate with Yes!Delft, with its more or less technical portfolio, and Rockstart, which focuses on start-ups with new business models. You can’t always unite them, but both technical and business model innovation are important.”
New Energy Challenge 2017 – the finalists
The start-ups of this year’s edition of the New Energy challenge cover a broad range of activities in the new energy technology area. Here are the 20 finalists.
Solaris Offgrid (Spain)
Offers a modular pay-as-you-go solar energy platform for people without access to modern forms of energy.
Develops a method to concentrate sunlight and generate high-temperature heat.
SOLHO (The Netherlands)
Designs and develops solar energy systems for horticultural projects.
JPM Silicon (Germany)
Produces low-carbon and renewable silicon for solar cells.
Brill Power (United Kingdom)
Develops a technology to increase the lifetime and reliability of a battery pack by enabling individual control of each lithium-ion cell.
Invented a kinetic battery for fast Electrical Vehicle (EV) charging stations.
Elaborates a modular, scalable and smart battery system for stationary and mobile storage.
Monitors industrial battery systems by a cloud based ‘big data’ analytics engine.
Develops a technology that enables the design and manufacturing of lighter and longer blades, meant to increase the efficiency of wind turbines.
Offers a floating platform, converting wave energy by opposing the strength of waves to create resistance, thus absorbing energy.
Ronamic (The Netherlands)
Elaborates a system that harvests tidal energy by using positive displacement devices in stead of turbines.
CorPower Ocean (Sweden)
Produces a heaving buoy on the sea surface absorbing energy from the combined surge and heave motion of the waves.
Helps facilitate high levels of Renewable Energy Sources (RES) and Distributed Energy Resources (DER) within diverse electricity grids, while enhancing grid stability.
Develops an open energy exchange for diverse actors in the energy industry.
Provides cloud-based energy analytics, virtual audit and energy management software for commercial buildings, industrial facilities, OEMs and utilities.
H2GO Power (United Kingdom)
Develops a technology that stores hydrogen based energy within smart nanomaterials.
Offers a hydrogen-based liquid fuel that requires no energy input to produce hydrogen.
Noiseless Acoustics (Finland)
Provides intelligent products and solutions that use sound as a source for analysing leakages, discharges or other anomalies.
Nostromo Energy (Israel)
Develops an energy storage system using surplus electric power to store cold thermal energy in the form of ice, which is used for cooling during peak hours.
Offers a technology based on ‘power-to-gas’-conversion for utility-scale energy storage, grid balancing, and carbon reuse.
With only two weeks left before the finals, tension is presumably rising among all participants. All know that the winner will be taken care of by one of the most experienced energy multinationals in the world. Their tutor-for-one-year offers more than a peek into its Rolodex.
“Besides the 100,000 euro convertible loan, we offer the same support as we normally give to more mature companies in which we invest several millions. We help them identify potential customers, potential investors, adapt their business models to every day practice.”
This package could mean the breakthrough many a start-up is dreaming of. Still, it is fair to ask if the winner is not better off with an incubator program of Yes!Delft or Rockstart.
Van de Wouw takes the point. “Most important for start-ups is that they have a launching customer”, he reacts. “That they have two or three customers who pay for their products and services. That is a time-consuming and exhaustive process we really want to offer the winner. But of course, we will monitor closely how the two runners-up will evolve within the programs of Rockstart and Yes!Delft and offer support if needed.”
By Pelle Matla, Docent at Maris College NL