Enel comes to Silicon Valley

Published on Wednesday, 15 March 2017

In the heart of the Bay Area, Enel opened its second Innovation Hub, at the University of California, Berkeley, after the one in Tel Aviv. The global energy company has thus joined one of the world’s major technological innovation centres, a few miles away from Facebook’s headquarters, at Menlo Park, and Google’s at Mountain View.

The aim, as in the case of the Israeli accelerator and of those that Enel is planning to open by the end of the year in other countries, is to explore from a privileged observatory the world of technological startups (not only in the energy field). In view of selecting and starting partnerships with the most promising in that galaxy of ideas, creativity and projects that make up Silicon Valley.

“This is yet another portion of the global ecosystem that will allow us to establish a contact between the various talents, creating a network in which ideas can take shape, be exchanged from one side of the planet to another and be rapidly developed”, said Enel’s Innovation and Sustainability director Ernesto Ciorra at the opening event. “In other words, a facility that, to use Steve Jobs’ famous call, will allow us to join the dots”, he added.

The partnership between the Group and the Californian establishment – the one that most focusses on the energy world – actually moved its first steps already in 2014. The opening of the new Hub took place in partnership con the University of California technological research and information centre (CITRIS), where the Hub’s headquarters will be located, and the Banatao Institute. Enel is the first industrial group that has established a unique partnership with CITRIS.

«We only rarely fund or purchase startups, Ciorra explained. Instead, we help them develop technologies that can be interesting for our group, be placed on the market and share innovation also with other companies».

In line with the Open Innovation model, Enel makes its hubs and its expertise – as well as that of other Italian medium and big companies – available to launch innovation activities and create synergy with our projects.

The selection of the startups hosted by the Californian hub will be based on Enel’s technology and business priorities. In addition, with the aid of the University of Berkeley accelerator, they will receive support in the fields of technology and human resources, so they can access the market as soon as possible, also by joining a network of venture capital funds. A model already tested by Enel, for example with the Ultrasolar Technology startup, which will enter the market next year and produces quantum power optimisers that allow to increase the power extracted from photovoltaic modules. And with Nuvve, which takes part in a consortium with ENEL and Nissan and provides the technology required for the vehicle-to-grid service already operating in Denmark and the UK.

“The challenge for groups like Enel, which operate in mature industries, is to ride innovation in order to achieve a transformation – commented the Head of Enel’s Renewables Global Division and the North American market Francesco Venturini. “Through the Innovation Hub, the Group will have an even closer relation with some of the world’s most innovative startups, helping to grow our leadership in spreading renewable energy, not only in the US but across the world.”

The Innovation Hub opening event was also attended by Henry Chesbrough,  economics professor at Berkeley and author of the Open Innovation theory: “For a company like Enel clinging to itself and thinking it can innovate by drawing ideas only from inside would not only be arrogant: it would be a suicide.”

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