What is the fastest way to decarbonize our energy system?

The response from our panel of future energy leaders was unanimous: collaboration. The key to building a more sustainable future is recognizing that entrepreneurs, multinational corporations, policy makers and industry experts each have a critical role to play, and the best ideas often come from the least established sources.

Convergence and partnership was an appropriate theme for the launch of Future Energy Ventures, the new venturing and collaboration platform created from the merger of E.ON and innogy’s venturing units. Bringing together the combined start-up portfolio and venturing expertise of E.ON and innogy, Future Energy Ventures aims to accelerate the journey to a sustainable future.

Jan Lozek, Managing Partner of Future Energy Ventures, hosted the panel discussion and began by asking panelists to think big. How can businesses of all sizes make a difference and lead the way to a more sustainable energy future?

Thinking outside of your current corporate structure, was the advice from Carola Wahl, advisor to Future Energy Ventures. “We need [a combination of] capital from VCs, and from corporate venture capital; we need corporate R&D, we need policy makers, corporate regulation, and also consumer demand… We need all these components to attract the best entrepreneurs because in my experience, the real scarcity is the best entrepreneurs. The world needs bolder and faster innovation because time is running out. We will find ideas and entrepreneurial thinking in E.ON, but the likelihood is that we will also find it outside E.ON.”

That theme of creating a decarbonized future through collaboration between organizations of all sizes was reinforced by Thomas Birr, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer at E.ON. “Transformation of energy systems to be carbon free is an amazing task. E.ON is one of the most important enablers of this transformation towards a decarbonized world — but we are enablers for others to make this happen.

“We are convinced this target is not something for single performers. It needs partnership with corporates, with midsize companies, and with start-ups to make this happen.”

The team at Future Energy Ventures have a track record and years of experience facilitating partnerships between start-ups and corporates. Two Future Energy Ventures portfolio companies, eSmart Systems and HoloBuilder, joined the panel and spoke about the value of partnerships to start-ups — explaining that collaboration with corporates and financiers is about much more than money.

Knut Johansen, CEO at eSmart Systems told the audience that the meeting of minds was a vital component in driving innovation: “We have a mix of investors that combines funding with domain expertise. So we gain proof of concept in close cooperation with E.ON. We focus hard on co-operation to be able to move innovation from being a great idea by use of that technology, to deliver the application into business operations.”

Mostafa Akbari-Hochberg, President and Co-Founder at HoloBuilder, echoed the view, emphasizing that understanding how to combine technologies and processes is key to driving forward innovation: “It’s not the technology that is the important part. It’s understanding the workflow: bringing in AI, robotics to optimize and digitize the processes, that’s the biggest thing. We have to look ahead to 5-10 years and get it scalable.”

The concept of convergence and the combination of brilliant ideas, learnings, and experience is key to entrepreneurial success – and it applies to technologies as much as organizations. Thomas Birr reminded the audience that while no single entity can hold the answer to a decarbonized future, so it is also the case for technology. The convergence of technologies such as AI, distributed ledger technologies, and quantum computing will be greater than the sum of their parts. The same, he argued, can be said for robotics and hydrogen power on the physical/assets side of the technology race.

Future Energy Ventures has been created to strengthen collaboration across start-ups and corporate organizations. By investing in a portfolio of companies across different technologies and geographies, the team aims to accelerate global progress towards a decarbonized future energy system.

You can watch the full session here:

Another recommended discussion about partnerships between startups and corporates: Can global partnerships make real change for local businesses?