cleantech insights

My feeling that multinational corporations “get” cleantech innovation

Stephen Marcus

For several years now, Cleantech Group has been beating the drum on the importance of corporations in cleantech innovation. And having just returned from our Cleantech Forum in Amsterdam which was themed “Cleantech Goes Corporate”, one could not help but feel that the drum beat is not only loud, but getting louder!

To echo (and horribly paraphrase – sorry) the words of Nancy Floyd, the Founder and Managing Director of Nth Power from the event: 15 years ago a few corporations were looking to invest in new energy funds just out of curiosity about the dealflow; now they see these technologies as crucial elements of their future growth strategies.

One only needs to look at a graphical sample of active corporations in cleantech to see how true Nancy’s words are:

Sample of corporate active in cleantech

The importance of cleantech innovation to multinationals could really be felt throughout our Amsterdam conference rooms. Delegates from over 30 multinational corporations including GM, Philips, Unilever, Total, Siemens, British Gas, EDF, Cisco, Bosch, BASF, Rhodia, Autodesk and Veolia (to name but a few) all came to network, brainstorm, understand, speak and exhibit. Corporate delegates with titles such as “Head of Emerging Technologies”, “Head of Technology Scouting”, and “Director of Business Innovation” were all present acting as a statement that they are taking cleantech innovation seriously and are actively looking to couple their corporate clout with the ideas and flexibility of start-ups. (The Economist cleverly refers to these corporations as Multinationimbles).

Particularly interesting were the strategies being formed around cleantech. Whilst we hear a lot about corporate venturing arms such as that of Siemens, GM, and ABB, the Forum had particular focus on a variety of mechanisms corporations use to source new ideas.

For example, France-based waste company Veolia deliberately does not invest in companies and instead has opted to set up its Veolia Innovation Accelerator Program which focuses on cooperating with start-ups and providing the right resources to bring great ideas to market. Autodesk has also opted to create a Clean Tech Partner Program where it offers start ups over $100,000 worth of its design engineering software for next to no cost. Others such as Lafarge and Shell have well established cleantech competitions.

If I could take one lesson from our event in Amsterdam, it would be that the corporate appetite for cleantech innovation is opening up big time on a global scale. Expect a multitude of corporate strategies to continue developing as the landscape evolves and, to some extent, fills the void of the tight traditional VC market.

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  • X X

    To quote Mr. Rockefeller, the richest man in history:

    “Competition is a sin.”

    These are all gestures. Electric vehicles have been around since the 1880s and electric cars have been available since 1900. Rails are more efficient than trucks by an unbelievable longshot and just as fast, but look what’s happened to them in the land shipping world? There are amazing electric vehicles available today that break less often, accelerate faster, handle better and can go just as fast as fossil fuel vehicles and run just as far on a single charge as a single tank. But why aren’t they eating up the market?

    The reasons are conspiratorial not commercial.
    Anyone who researches the topic in detail will come to more or less the same conclusions.

  • Guest

    Not listed above, but worth mentioning here is Saint-Gobain’s External Venturing unit. Saint-Gobain is not well known here in the U.S., but is actually the world’s largest building materials manufacturer, and its External Venturing unit focuses on forming partnerships with startups in the green building and advanced materials spaces. More info here: