Enel and Italian startups: a success story

Published on Wednesday, 4 December 2019

In a world looking to speed up decarbonisation in order to fight climate change, there is an urgent need for innovative and sustainable solutions, such as those developed by the Italian startups that Enel brought together on 27 November in Milan for the summit titled “Leading the Energy Revolution”.

The global electricity utility made an appeal to the youngest and most promising tech companies: share your ideas with us so we can develop them together to make the planet a better place and improve people’s quality of life.

The venue of the event too was particularly symbolic as it is a genuine citadel of startups. Le Village is a former 15th century convent in the heart of Milan that has been transformed by Crédit Agricole, with Enel’s support for the event, into a welcoming and hyper-connected workplace, where more than 30 small businesses and 180 people work.

Many young startup founders attended the summit and participated in demonstrations of the new products that our Group has helped develop, from ADLife's virtual assistants for the chronically ill to SoundBubble's anti-noise pollution solutions designed to help workers communicate efficiently and safely even in particularly noisy environments.

As Carlo Tamburi, Head of Country Italy, pointed out, Enel has chosen to combine innovation and sustainability. Therefore, working with startups is nothing new to the Group and has been yielding good results for both parties for some time now. The company is the first customer, as well as a partner, and is driving the entire ecosystem; in a very short space of time it has purchased goods and services in Italy worth 20 million euros. The numbers listed by Fabio Tentori, Head of Enel Innovation Hubs and Startup Initiatives, underline the Group’s concrete commitment: 6,500 startups analysed (850 in Italy alone), 250 projects launched (85 in Italy) and 50 projects (17 in Italy) marketed at an international level.

It all starts with a dream and a form

It is quite simple to submit your project to Enel: just fill in a form on the platform openinnovability.enel.com. A panel will assess your idea, from a technical and economic point of view, and will then provide feedback. During the discussion with David Casalini, CEO of StartupItalia!, and Giovanni Iozzia, Chief Editor of Economy Up, Enel’s Chief Innovability Officer Ernesto Ciorra explained that digital startups are not so much in need of funding but rather practical help to develop their ideas.

“To all startups: look for funds, even abroad, but do not obsess about it. Above all, look for an industrial partner, like Enel”

– Ernesto Ciorra, Chief Innovability Officer

The experiences described by the startup founders who have already established partnerships with Enel confirm that this synergy was essential to fine-tune the projects, test them in real work environments and meet the challenges of the market.

“Enel has been with us from the outset, providing advice and suggestions. We’ve worked as a team, using their facilities to test our product”

– Vincenzo Randazzo, CEO of SoundBubble

Ciorra also explained that Enel is not a venture capital investor, but a customer and especially a “co-innovator”. Enel can build these partnerships based on the solid foundations of the Group’s established industrial credentials, also making available to startups its network of 10 Innovation Hubs. These are likely to increase in number in line with the Group's growth and interest in promising local ecosystems.

Technologies that change the way we live and work

The Milan summit also showcased a collection of success stories: from iGenius's Crystal – the acclaimed "conversational interface" nicknamed the Alexa for industry – which has been translated into five languages and is now available in nine countries, to Aton's energy storage systems for residential buildings, with 800 of its systems already sold by Enel X in just a few months. Thanks to Enel, Ermes has developed a self-updating shielded browser to protect the Internet activity of employees in large companies and block annoying pop-ups. The Catania-based M2D is building an automated platform to remotely control photovoltaic systems and, if necessary, intervene directly with drones.

“I am grateful to Enel for creating a unique innovation model, which is initiating a chain reaction”

– Uljan Sharka, CEO of iGenius

Paolo Mottura, founder of Greenovation, explained that thanks to exchanges with Enel's engineers it was possible to improve the level of simulation of the energy efficiency programme for condominiums that the startup is developing. Whereas the partnership to build an Internet-connected wheelchair able to help the user get in and out without any assistance began with a message from Andrea Depalo, founder of AvanChair, sent to Ciorra via LinkedIn.

The technologies proposed by the startups also help to protect people at work. At Le Village there were demonstrations of Iuvo's passive exoskeleton for use during repetitive manual tasks to reduce muscle strain and tension. Then Dairlab's airbags, inspired by protective equipment used in motorcycle racing, serve to cushion the impact of falls for those working on ladders or scaffolding. WeAr's augmented reality devices and visors are worn directly by technicians for system maintenance and repair operations. Since 2016, e-labos has been providing Enel with network solutions for testing smart meters; its tools have also contributed to the success of the ABB FIA Formula E Championship, the world championship for electric racing cars. AppQuality, with a network of over 15,000 testers in Italy, showed how its crowdtesting service works to detect application bugs.

The challenge of new business models

In Milan, Enel also laid down new challenges to the world of startups. As Marco Gazzino (Head of Innovation and the Enel X Product Lab) and executives Marina Lombardi (Head of New Technologies and Innovation - Network of Technology and Innovation), Nicola Rossi (Head of Innovation at Global Power Generation) and Marco Moretti (Head of Innovation at Global Digital Solutions) told the audience, the Group is looking for partners with whom to develop new business models concerning services for communities, to build the digital grid – the digital replica of the Enel power grid, for projects that help boost efficiency and circularity while reducing the impact of power generation, and also to expand the role of soft robotics in back office operations.

Enel, Iozzia stressed, is the best Italian global company when it comes to innovation and has a thriving programme for startups. Now is the time to bring the best ideas and the brightest minds together to speed up the energy revolution.

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