Sustainable energy and connections: Enel meets Swiss company DAES
In 2021, we launched a series of online sessions held by major corporates as part of our investment readiness programme. Enel, a multinational energy company participated, setting challenges for energy sector startups and SMEs. Fernando Sandoval, Manager of Enel’s European Innovation Hub (Hub Europe) since 2017, spoke to us about how the sessions resulted in conversations leading towards a potential partnership with Swiss engineering company, DAES.
Enel innovates sustainably with startups
“Innovation is the means and sustainability is the goal. We know we cannot do it alone.” – Sandoval
Enel is a multinational energy company and integrated utility, focusing on energy transition and electrification of demand. The company is based in Italy and present in more than 30 countries worldwide with 65,000 employees.
But huge self-sustaining energy corporates also know there are talented startups and SMEs, research centres and universities specialising in areas that, with collaboration, can result in achieving ambitious goals.
Enel established its first innovation hub five years ago, which formally launched its model for working with small energy sector companies. Now, Enel has 10 Innovation Hubs worldwide.
Fernando Sandoval, who leads Enel’s European Innovation Hub, explains, “We have a venture-client approach to the work we do with startups. It means we form win-win collaborations, so we can bring innovation to Enel, and in exchange, the startups and SMEs can grow with us.”
Startup and SME solutions that are the perfect fit
So, what qualities does Enel look for in the startups and SMEs it chooses to work with? Sandoval explains, “the most important thing for us is the fit between what the company does and what we need.” By setting focused challenges for companies to address, Enel can see how submitted solutions slot into its energy sector aspirations.
Enel Innovation Hubs also consider the maturity of the solution, capabilities of the team, who is backing the company and what milestones have been achieved so far. Enel does not invest in the companies it collaborates with, but when startups and SMEs need resources to expand, Enel can introduce them to venture capital firms it has relationships with.
A wide reach in European energy ecosystems
“Innovation is everywhere. One of the goals we have is to be able to position Enel’s value proposition for startups in different ecosystems.” – Sandoval
Enel is always scouting innovative energy companies beyond its existing network, and Sandoval trusts in the richness of Europe’s ecosystems to continuously produce new and varied talent that reflect the different cultures, regulations and markets.
Our online investment readiness sessions with Enel introduced the corporate to companies from 13 countries, helping Enel to expand its reach in these networks. Enel’s business divisions could speak to a new pool of players directly, spotting the startups and SMEs able to solve challenges and proposing partnerships in return.
One of the companies in conversations with Enel is Swiss engineering company DAES, founded in 2012 by researchers from CERN and other big science facilities. DAES’ R&D spans several European networks in France, Germany, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Now with a powerful potential Italian partner supporting the company, DAES is optimistic about future growth.
François Plewinski, DAES’ Associate Director, states that “being selected by Enel has already unlocked the door to private investment”. He explains how the relationship also acts as a quality tag that has triggered private investors (confident of future sales) to support the team’s R&D. For DAES, this is vital for commercialising results quickly, because all its efforts and resources are pooled into its innovations.
Collaborative R&D and innovation
DAES has expertise in several sectors: the company is participating in the international thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER) fusion project in France, developing a new machine for non-destructive testing of metallic components, supporting both micromechanical engineering (for Swiss watchmakers) and transport and space sectors and performing advanced simulations for health technologies, like soles for running shoes.
With Enel Green Power’s support as a world leader in renewables, DAES will also develop a green power hydrogen electrolyzer and is increasingly putting more resources into this project. The two companies are currently exchanging technical information and requirements to understand possible future collaboration.
Plewinski explains that conversations with Enel have broadened DAES’ market vision. He states, “This market would have been completely out of reach in the scope of our current activities with no point in addressing it, but during these conversations, we have realised that, for example, South America is something to consider”.
As a part of their relationship, Enel Green Power has invited DAES (alongside other green hydrogen startups and SMEs) to showcase its hydrogen-related R&D at the 2021 Enlit exhibition in Milan.
Investment readiness programmes easing access
Corporates can struggle to connect to startups and SMEs with specific expertise, and small companies have the problem that reaching out to the appropriate contact in the corporate can be difficult. Flexible acceleration programmes and innovation hubs ease those connections.
“We are glad we chose to participate in this programme, and we really enjoyed having this possibility to accelerate, find partners and be flexible.” Plewinski
In our online investment readiness sessions, Plewinski and the team at DAES were able to present their solution to Enel’s challenge and have direct conversations with the people they would be working with within Enel.
As for future collaborations between startups, SMEs and Enel, Sandoval says, “we are constantly identifying challenges and working towards solving them.”