Recognized as one of the central agents of corporate innovation and digital transformation for companies and startups in Portugal and abroad, Beta-i kicks off 2020 with 25 open innovation, business models acceleration and innovation design projects, for customers in almost 20 countries. Besides, it ends February with one-third of its business objectives for the year fulfilled and with a clear plan for internationalization. In other words: we still have a long way to go up to December – but we’re quite happy so far.
Some of the main companies operating in key economic areas in Portugal (such as Millennium BCP, Novartis, José de Mello Group, Inmarsat, Siemens, Fosun / Fidelidade, Daimler, EDP, SIBS, Ageas, Semapa, Sonae, Galp and Nestlé, in addition to Turismo de Portugal / Visit Portugal, Câmara de Lisboa / Lisbon Municipality and Ministério do Mar / Ministry of the Sea) have been developing collaborative innovation projects with Beta-i.
Not only in Portugal: Beta-i manages the leading open innovation program for energy in the world (Free Electrons) and is currently setting up global consortiums dedicated to circular economy and airports. Check this Free Electrons summary:
Tangible impact results come up because Beta-i’s approach facilitates the convergence and exchange of expertise between corporates and a network of thousands of startups from around the world, in order to drive business models transformation based on technological solutions. Investors, public institutions and university research centres are also part of this ecosystem connected by Beta-i, which over the past decade has helped the business development of more than 900 startups.
Pedro Rocha Vieira, CEO and Co-founder of Beta-i, points out that Fintech and Banking, Circular Economy, Healthtech and Pharmaceuticals, Energy, Water and the Economy of the Sea, Smart Cities and Mobility are sectors that are currently experiencing a deeper and even more accelerated transformation, therefore counting on greater pressure to reinvent themselves.
He points out that in not only these segments, but also Retail and Mass Consumption, Tourism, Insurtech, Airports and public services face similar challenges ready to become opportunities. “Collaborating with startups in a concrete way, through the open innovation programs managed by Beta-i, is a pragmatic response to these challenges that we believe will intensify in the next three years”. Watch one more example, now regarding the health industry and our Techcare program with Novartis:
Such a week! From 3rd to the 7th of February, the SOL Mobility bootcamp brought 25 startups from 13 different countries to present their solutions for urban mobility to the public and corporate partners of this Smart Open Lisboa (SOL) vertical edition. Urban mobility is a context where convergence is absolutely crucial to make change happen, so the collaborative innovation approach managed by Beta-i on this Open Innovation program just fits like a glove.
And after five days of intense collaboration between corporates and startups, always under Beta-i guidance and experts team support, 17 out of these 25 startups were invited to keep working with the companies, in order to develop the stunning number of 30+ pilots from now on. Check this quick video:
Such achievement was only possible because of the partner’s vision and commitment to tackle some of Lisbon’s biggest mobility challenges: from E-mobility to Digital & Personalized Mobility, from Smart Parking to Fleet, Asset and Traffic Management. They were able not only to select promising solutions from international startups but also to set up joint pilots – the best metric to translate the true collaborative innovation culture enforced by Beta-i on a daily basis.
“Our challenges are so big and diverse. That’s why this is a very good program since it enables us to work with different companies, partners and people to get different solutions“, points out the Head of the Municipal Mobility & Transport Directorate in Lisbon, Francisca Ramalhosa. She adds that “think and act like a startup” is also a huge cultural challenge – a common topic shared by some other partners, such as CP, which is currently implementing a strategic planning and innovation area. “It is crucial for us to be aware of the changes in our industry and stay open for a dialogue with a new generation of mobility solutions, so programs like this are really important”, adds CP Sectorial Supervisor, Teresa Sousa.
International and fully private companies also acknowledge the need for mutual collaboration to boost new models. “You can’t solve problems being isolated or alone. We must converge our efforts and combine solutions”, says Director for Connected Mobility at Siemens, Andy Gill. “So getting to know these high-quality startups during the program, and partnering with those who see us as a valuable partner to move forward is a fantastic model”. His thoughts also resonate on Galp, the Portuguese-based energy company that recently announced its shift as the biggest solar energy player in the Iberian Peninsula. “We’re diversifying our energy sources, and this shift must be accompanied by other strategic moves”, adds Galp Head of Innovation and Energy Efficiency, Nicolle Fernandes. “That’s what we understand SOL Mobility as a valuable program to help us see new ways of doing things and push for tangible innovation, perceived by our final clients”.
Lisbon has won the title of European Green Capital 2020, and one of the reasons is that Lisbon has a cohesive city-wide vision for sustainable urban mobility. This is achieved through measures to restrict car use and prioritise walking, cycling and public transport, and also by promoting programs like Smart Open Lisboa. This year the City Council also signed a Corporate Mobility Pact with several local partners (companies and institutions) with a set of commitments designed to make mobility in Lisbon more sustainable, through means such as creating conditions for employees to adopt new solutions and mobility behaviours.
So get ready for May, when all the pilot development impact results will be presented during SOL Mobility Demo Day: stay smart & open – oops, stay tuned 🙂
An interview with Stephen Comello, director of the Energy Business Innovations focus area at Stanford Graduate School of Business and Free Electrons invited researcher: “Innovation takes time, and it’s about trusting people”
How can we figure out the real organizational and business impact of corporate-startup collaboration in such a large industry as Energy? That’s part of what Stephen Comello, director of the Energy Business Innovations focus area at Stanford Graduate School of Business, explores as invited researcher for Free Electrons – a global open innovation energy platform, managed by Beta-i on behalf of a consortium of 10 utilities that collectively generate over $170 billion/year in revenue and operate in over 40 countries. The Free Electrons program 2020 call for energy startup applications is open until the January 31st (by the way, get to know the amazing alumni from previous years here).
Comello is also a senior research fellow at the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy, Policy and Finance at Stanford University, not to mention some other roles you can check out here. His research focuses broadly on energy technology, economics, policy, and innovation. In particular, by applying tools and methods within economics, management and systems analysis, he investigates innovation and competitiveness of low-carbon energy solutions. Together with his colleague Ann-Kristin Zobel from ETH Zurich, they examine how the Free Electrons program is emerging as a unique innovation platform within the Energy industry – a critical sector from both economic and sustainability perspectives. Meet the involved utilities here.
In this interview made in December 2019 at Beta-i hub in Lisbon, Comello talks about how open innovation is a useful approach for large companies to gain new capabilities and build new business models through strategic complementarity with startups, in an attempt to thrive during sectoral upheaval. He also highlights a key component in building innovation for real, no bullshit involved: trust. “Innovation takes time and requires the mindset that this is going to be a dynamic process based – in large part – on trusting people”.
First of all, thank you Stephen for your time. In a nutshell, can you explain what you do?
Thank you for the opportunity! I lead the energy business innovations focus area at Stanford Graduate School of Business, which is a research group that’s looking at how technology, policy and organizations co-evolve to influence the business cases for advanced energy solutions. We conduct lots of technoeconomic analyses on different technologies such as solar-plus-storage, electric vehicles and hybrid energy systems to understand how they become more economic or competitive over time. We also spend a lot of time looking into organizational innovation within the energy sector. What we are keen to understand is how companies – small and large – are gaining new capabilities through acquiring new knowledge and putting that knowledge to work in an attempt to thrive in a new, changing energy ecosystem.
And how did you get involved with Free Electrons?
I wanted to learn a lot more about the process innovation, beyond the simple measure of cost declines due to gains in experience. I wanted to know the people. I wanted to know how organizations make innovation happen. This was something in the back of my mind in early 2016, and it just so happened that one of the founders of the Free Electrons program was someone within the Stanford ecosystem. Upon asking me if I would be interested in exploring the program, I jumped at the opportunity. I believe programs like Free Electrons are something that the energy industry really needs and I was happy, and lucky, to have the chance to follow along on the journey.
These are the 10 leading energy utilities behind Free Electrons
Your whole career seems to be connected to the energy sector, investigating innovation or sustainable practices and models. So what have you observed in Free Electrons that could be framed as singular or unique?
Free Electrons is interesting in how established companies – some operating for over 100 years – think about and change their business models. These large incumbent organizations are being disrupted by the four forces of the energy transition: decentralization, decarbonization, digitalization and deregulation. These are macro-trends all happening at once and they are really changing the makeup and the dynamics of the industry. In the case of the Free Electrons, the electricity industry.
What’s compelling about Free Electrons is it is a way for utilities that don’t normally work together to learn together in an open platform, share experiences and knowledge, and experiment with startups – all in a very efficient way in order to understand the potential of cutting-edge solutions that ultimately will change their business models.
And how could you define the Beta-i role in this process? How do we contribute to make these collaborations happen and to achieve tangible results and impact?
There are 10 utility partners from across the world and 15 startups, each of latter is selected by the utilities to form an annual cohort. Think about all the different kinds of interactions that could happen that need to be coordinated, that need to be managed, that in some cases need to be inspired. A designated entity must take them through a process, create a structure, create a community, bring everyone together so that all participants – utility and start-up – feel protected, safe and able to really put their best minds forward.
That’s what Beta-i does. Beta-i is basically the connective tissue that helps make innovation-forward collaborations happen. It is the connective tissue that helps enable these start-ups and utilities to experiment with each other to explore breakthrough solutions and their assess their potential.
The collaboration between corporates and startups is for sure crucial to accelerate innovation for both sides. But this can be as impactful as tricky, depending on the case. I know you are still investigating and there’s a long way to go, but could you share what you consider to be the main challenge to create tangible results between these two stakeholders?
One of the greatest challenges is understanding that utilities and startups operate at two different speeds. There’s strategic complementarity, where you have a startup that may have a lot of ideas and can be nimble and adjust quickly – they want to help solve the problems that emerge within a program like Free Electrons. At the same time, the utility has immense resources, marketing and brand recognition. However the utility has multiple business and legacy systems to consider, and an organization that needs to ingest these emerging solutions. The utility will move slower than the start-up because of these elements and others. The two groups – start-ups and utilities – operate at two different speeds. The startup really wants to go quickly, and the utility – rightfully so – wants to make sure that there is a right fit.
So one of the main challenges, when a start-up and utility work together, is to bring the start-up along at a reasonable pace while increasing the speed of the utility, but doing so in a mindful way so that no party is worse off. I find that a program like Free Electrons allows that modulation to happen, where it attempts to bring start-ups and utilities to the same level so they can actually speak the same language, spend the time, get really detailed, in order to then explore a solution that can potentially solve real-life problems.
Free Electrons utilities facts & figures
Were you able to identify a key convergence point? I mean, a kind of “aha moment” that is crucial to make this sync happen? Is it when you define the pilots to be developed? Or when you have a model canvas to be designed? Does this point exist?
I think that one way to think about it is that innovation takes time – especially collaborative innovation. I believe a helpful mindset is one which understands that the innovation journey is going to be a dynamic process, where you will never have complete information but you trust the people you’re working with and you can figure it out together; whether proposed solutions lead to useful collaborations or must be cut off quickly because it’s actually not being fruitful. Open innovation emphasizes open communication, sharing as much relevant, detailed knowledge as possible and trusting that the other person is an expert in their field and wants the best for the collaboration.
This is super interesting because we are talking about trust and then being confident about these relationships, in a zeitgeist moment where trust is a weak point in very different relationship levels – being post-truth, fake news, deep fake, greenwashing or any jargon we could use.
What is really helpful in building trust is being open and truthful upfront: “these are the constraints that I feel or that I face. These are the fears that I have. These are the solutions that I might have. These have been my experiences”. Going back to my earlier point, all of this takes time to really exchange that information, to convey those sentiments. This builds the deepness and trust that you need when things become a little bit gnarly – the idea that these people are honest.
In this world of uncertainty, people are going to be dealing with a lot more failure than success, and to be able to keep moving forward you can’t do it by yourself because the solutions space is so large and there is so much unknown, at least initially. You really want to establish trust – because you need others to help you move forward, and others will only stick around if trust has been fostered.
So a collaborative innovation enabler like Beta-i also has a role as a “diplomatic moderator”, a trust-connector in the end.
Yes, because the Beta-i team are the embodiment of the culture. They work with the utilities to design the program and then they implement it, all the while being a steward for the purposes and goals of the program. So not only is the Beta-I team the one helping design the culture, but it also acts as an ambassador for culture in executing the program. They need to personify what Free Electrons ought to be, which is future-looking, open, innovative, trust-building and collaborative.
Building trust with the Beta-i team for Free Electrons 2020: Claudia Ferreira, Mafalda Freitas, Stephen Comello, Assunção Cruz
Your investigation goes through six different layers. The Individual, the Pilots, the Utilities, the Program as a Meta-Organization, the Consortium within the industry and the Industry itself. Which one is raising more interest from your side, as a researcher? What has been more compelling to explore?
They are all interesting! That is why we have six projects, each looking at Free Electrons from a different unit of analysis; from the individual at the smallest level, to the whole industry at the largest level. We have created a research portfolio because the setting is so rich.
As an example – at the firm level – we explored how different organizations such as individual utilities and start-ups… and program managers… work to form common goals for the group, or as we call it, the meta-organization. We studied how in some cases working at the system level for the common “good” competed with what was in the best interest of any one firm. We realized that there is a dynamic process – that certain goals gain prominence over time, then wane, and this is a complex dance of power, persuasion, negotiation and signaling, among others.
Another example – at the individual level, we explored how individuals within start-ups and utilities share knowledge with each other – how they act as boundary spanners, occupying spaces at the interface between their own organizations – internally – and all others – externally. We explored how broadly and deeply individuals share knowledge both internally and externally, and what this means for the shape of collaborations.
Boundary spanning is a crucial skill – and mindset – that is fundamental to open innovation. Boundary spanners need to become experts in the language of their own organization, but they also have to become experts in the language of the external organizations. So if you’re a utility, you have to both speak utility and startup or if you’re a startup, you have to speak both startup and utility. Operating at that boundary requires being open to all the different kinds of information that comes your way – and being able to translate that effectively, all the while understanding how emotion affects all involved as well. Because everything builds upon people. That’s why we are looking at Free Electrons from the individual, “person” level, and then all the way up to the industry level.
I loved two concepts, or practices, you came up with in this investigation: one is “meta-organization”, and the other, the “corporate boundary spanners”. Would you say that open innovation, as a whole, is a key approach to make this meta-organizational design, and this spanner role, grow within the business management environment? Do you believe that open innovation is a key agent to unlock this process when it comes to contemporary business management?
I’d say that open innovation is an interesting and useful way to gain and build capabilities within an organization. There is a lot of knowledge and ideas outside the corporate boundaries, and it is becoming increasingly important, I believe, to be able to harness those resources, and at the same time transmit your own knowledge into the world. How a firm goes about intentionally acquiring, transmitting and making use of knowledge and ideas across its organizational boundaries is an important capability in and of itself. That is a skill set within the boundary spanner mantra. The practice of open innovation is a strategic resource that all firms ought to seriously consider building.
This is made even more important now because of digitalization, which is causing many traditional industry verticals to become increasingly intermeshed. Digitalization – the rise in use and sophistication of data science, analytics, the cloud and so on – is a horizontal force, allowing for new business models that span sectors. This is a highly dynamic environment. There’s a lot of knowledge being created and there’s a lot of factors emerging such that any one organization, any one individual, will simply not know.
We are running the 2020 edition of Free Electrons. Can you share your goal regarding this year’s edition? What are the outcomes you want to achieve as a researcher?
The high-level research theme for the 2020 edition is about impact. We now have a history; we have 2017, 2018 and 2019 cohorts. In what specific ways have the start-ups that have been through the program benefited? To what extent? What might be design changes that could be implemented that increase the benefit to the start-ups? What might it take to implement such changes? Other questions we will explore have to do with the design changes to the program already. A critical resource being developed in Free Electrons in not only the start-up to utility collaborations, it is the knowledge created through multiple interactions and examinations of solutions, pilots, etc. How has this knowledge been captured and transmitted, and how has this changed? In what ways does the knowledge make the actors – both start-ups and utilities – “better” at open innovation? These are the kinds of questions we’ll be considering for 2020. I find this is very exciting.
Amazing. Would you like to add something more?
I have to say that I’m very thankful to be here in Lisbon at Beta-i. As an academic, it’s always a bit of a struggle to get information from practitioners. Especially when you’re in the social sciences, you rely heavily on other people to provide you information – whether it be in form of documentation, interviews, direct observations and other forms. The openness that Beta-i has shown my team and me has been fantastic. Beta-i has a true learning culture and vast experiences as open innovation shepherds. My team and I have been able to learn meaningfully from each and every Beta-I team member. Beyond their expertise, they are a really fun group – which makes our work all the more pleasurable!
The Open Innovation programs The Journey and Protechting achieved major pilot results – involving 23 startups from 15 countries, in three continents – to develop new solutions on Tourism, Fintech, Insurtech and Healthtech businesses
The crucial moment for establishing collaborative processes between corporates and startups, within Open Innovation programs, is unquestionably the Bootcamp. Under the method implemented by Beta-i over the years (and it’s been a decade!), Bootcamps are the turning point of every program, as the people behind the needs of organizations and the solutions brought by startups meet one on one, to develop something new – and collectively get achievable results.
The latest Beta-i Bootcamps on Tourism (The Journey) and the Fintech, Healthtech and Insurtech triad (Protechting) are a robust example of this process, with 29 pilots going to be considered and developed from 23 startups of 15 countries to impact both B2B and B2C fronts.
The Journey: innovation in Tourism
This Open Innovation program deals with one of the most interconnected industries of the contemporary era: Tourism, a gigantic cluster that generates economic, social and even identity consequences for the destinations visited. Goes without saying that the Tourism sector has been booming in Portugal for years in a row, and that’s why this Open Innovation program has been connecting key players in the Portuguese market with innovators from all over the world. “The Tourism Industry is one of the most competitive ones, and we must build everyday solutions and new services to our customers while envisioning the future,” explains Sergio Guerreiro, Senior Director Knowledge Management & Innovation from Turismo de Portugal, one of the organizations investing in the program alongside Barraqueiro Group, Parques de Sintra – Monte da Lua and Vila Galé Hotels (in addition to Unicre, a key payment solutions provider in the country that participates as a Data Partner).
Every innovator deserves a break: The Journey participants on a hop-on hop-off bus and boat
In its 4th edition, the program investigated and selected startups able to tackle Hospitality, Parks & Monuments and Tours & Activities pain points shared by our clients, then linked to themes such as Smart Connected Operations, Seamless Traveler Journey, Customer Experience and Sustainable Development Solutions. These scouting challenges emerge a result of the needs assessments carried out by Beta-i’s expert team alongside the participant corporates teams, so the process can converge to common goals from the very beginning – and so can be explored in the Bootcamp.
The result of this concerted effort generated in the end of October the excellent result of 17 pilots, from 11 startups of 6 countries in Europe and Asia. “This number is a result of the program’s direct response to these tourism operators challenges,” says Gonçalo Faria, Open Innovation Program Director at Beta-i, who also highlights “some very interesting solutions on water and energy efficiency, aiming for a more sustainable tourism”. The results of this collaboration will be known at the end of January 2020, when The Journey comes to an end with one of the key events for tourism innovation businesses in Portugal: the Lisbon Tourism Summit 2020, focused on sustainability and organized by Beta-i, which counts with The Journey’s Demo Day on its programming: in other words, the moment when the results of these collaboratively developed pilots are presented to the stakeholders.
Protechting: tackling multiple industry challenges and geographies
Bootcamps are a special moment because, as Beta-i Senior Growth Strategist Tomás Bento recalls, “startups come in very ambitious for the program, but sometimes lack the experience to make the best win-win connections with corporates. And we believe that our contribution is fundamental to trim every potential down to the very essentials, and help them set up a bolder pitch”. And that’s exactly what happened at the Protechting bootcamp, which ended on November 21st in Lisbon, where 12 pilots were selected out of 21 different startups from 12 countries in three continents. As Beta-i’s Program Director Francisco Carvalho adds, “thanks to this collaboration, some startups were able to fully adapt their technologies, turning their initial proposals into much more fit and desirable solutions for the participant corporates”.
Shiny happy people: corporates, startups and Beta-i celebrating the closing of Protechting Bootcamp
Protechting is defiant by definition as it brings together different industries under the leadership of the same shareholder, the Chinese group Fosun – the name behind companies such as Fidelidade (Insurtech track), Luz Saúde Learning Health (Healthtech track) and the German bank Hauck & Aufhäuser (Fintech track). The process was tailored to this consortium, which in addition to different industries also operates in different geographies and has a particular involvement with China. To solve that, two groups of startups were selected: one for pilots development, and another (with more primary business models, coming from other 5 countries) for a parallel mentoring and acceleration path. “We truly believe in Open Innovation. The Protechting program gives us access to startups from around the world, and in order to accommodate both our strategic and geographic goals, we created these two groups. The pre-acceleration one is focused on bringing startups from markets where we are expanding right now, such as Mozambique and Peru” says José Villa de Freitas, Fidelidade’s marketing manager.
This strategic ambition facilitated by Protechting is reinforced by Harald Patt, CEO at Fosun Europe Innovation Hub and Managing Director of Fosun’s Wealth Department and Fintech Sector. Responsible for the Chinese group’s deal flow on startups, Patt sees the program as a concrete way to incorporate new solutions into the company portfolio. “In addition to the areas where we operate around the world, it is important to remember that we´re deeply rooted in China and we are able to generate great opportunities there.”
Bootcamps are particularly prized by Patt, since it’s the crucial moment where original ideas, created to solve people and organizations daily problem, leverage their approaches as business models. “It’s exciting. Startups with good ideas and bad pitches often turn out to present amazing solutions at the end of the pilot phase. Not to mention that this is the moment of truth, where they must prove a differentiated and scalable technology”. What was a surprise in the beginning – a global open innovation program set up all the way from Portugal – now is the new normal to him: “although central Europe is not always paying attention, the Portuguese ecosystem is very active and we are aware of this”.
For 10 weeks, the teams went through an intense program, filled with enriching content, workshops and mentoring sessions. The program is structured in four phases:
Validation: The founders started by validating their value proposition and gaining a better understanding of what could be their target audience and their potential needs.
Product And Tech: This phase meant a deep-dive into the startups’ solutions and the technology behind them, defining how is their project solving the clients’ needs better than any other out there, and designing a roadmap for product market fit.
Growth: At this third phase, founders learned how to talk with customers and make sure they don’t leave after trying the product – in other words, it was all about client retention and which metrics should be analyzed in order to figure it out.
Investment: The teams learned to understand investors, and what they are looking for. But also, what to say to investors to tell their story and secure investment.
The value proposition brought by Lisbon Challenge it’s its unique people-centric approach – a Beta-i landmark.
This approach is about bringing a people-centered vision to the founders’ businesses, keeping in mind: Who are they building a solution for (getting to know their consumer), who are they building a solution with (building a team and company culture) and who they are as entrepreneurs (preparing founders’ for the future ahead).
The Lisbon Challenge journey, taking them closer and closer to a product-market fit, is only possible thanks to the strong network of mentors, who have been through the same processes and similar experiences as entrepreneurs themselves.
Our 88 mentors, from different specialties – from branding and product to growth, from personal development to investment, have clocked in over 450+ hours of mentorship, giving the founders’ the tools they need to succeed.
The big stage at #LIS
The journey led the founders to the biggest stage in the investment arena: Lisbon Investment Summit – to an audience on national and international investors and innovators, in an event with over 1500 attendees.
Originating from very different countries – this international cohort had startups from Portugal, UK, Italy, Ireland and USA – they took to the stage: OUTBOUND, VAIRT, FLOCK, CROWDBOOKS and SKOACH were the startups pitching.
The crowd had a say – they gave feedback live, through a form vote – and it was positive: over 50% of voters said that they wanted to meet and talk with the founders.
It’s only the beginning
For our founders, this is just the beginning – they are now ready to jump to the next stage: scaling. In the words of the team: “We’re really proud of what we saw today. And today is just the beginning for these teams. They are already doing pilots with big corporates – all companies looking for innovative solutions should talk with these startups. They are a group of trusting, capable founders, with impactful solutions and a growth mindset. We’re excited to see the global impact they will bring in the future – we know they are ready to jump into scale.”