Spotting trailblazing start-ups working on breakthrough technologies
Maureen Le Baud, an associate at the Electranova Capital investment fund who is participating in the EDF Pulse Award for the first time, discussed her role in sourcing and selecting applicants.
You work at Electranova Capital. What does your job entail?
Electranova Capital is a fund that invests in energy start-ups, more broadly in what’s called cleantech companies. Our role is to spot start-ups that are innovating on the electrical industry’s value chain, to acquire a minority stake in these companies and to help them grow by putting our know-how and network at their disposal. We have two goals. The first is strategic: opening the EDF group up to external innovations in our industry. The second is financial: ensuring a positive return on investment that can keep the fund operating on a sound basis and guarantee its long-term survival. Our ties to the EDF group, the fund’s strategic investor, are very strong. I myself am an EDF employee on secondment to Electranova. We take full advantage of the group’s expertise by relying on its 2,200 R&D researchers to assess and test the technologies gathering our support. We also gauge the potential of the companies that catch our eye by associating the group’s business units that are most likely to become partners. Electranova Capital has invested in 10 companies since it was set up in May 2012. Each has benefitted from an industrial and/or commercial partnership with the Group.
How do you tap into your expertise for the EDF Pulse Awards?
The companies that apply are still young in relation to our usual investment guidelines. The quest for profitability and a short-term return on investment matter less at this stage. With the EDF Pulse Awards, we can be interested in breakthrough technologies that take greater industrial or market risks. I can add a supplementary dose of risk-taking to my traditional investment expertise. I’m also free to select my “favourites” as a citizen and a user concerned about our planet’s energy future. That’s what makes the EDF Pulse Awards so exciting: we’re widening our quest, our culture and our curiosity. It opens up doors and minds. It’s a real pleasure
With the EDF Pulse Awards, we’re widening our quest, our culture and our curiosity. It opens up doors and minds.
When do you step in?
Right from the start. First, I play a dissemination role, in particular with my European ecosystem. I send start-ups, other investors and partners the call for applications until the closing date, 6 December 2015. Then comes the selection process, which takes place in several stages. Personally, I participate in choosing the first 40 projects from online applications. Next, together with my colleagues, I shortlist another 12-15 applications in January. Then, another jury cuts the most promising applicants down to six. In March, the public will be able to vote on these finalists to pick one winner in each of the following categories: “The Connected Home”, “E-Health” and “The Low-Carbon City”.
Could you tell us a little about the sourcing work you mentioned above?
The goal is to detect the most promising companies. To do that, the Electranova team participates in conferences and juries to spot the best ideas as far in advance as possible. Our commitment to the EDF Pulse Awards fully participates in this detective work. It’s a way of spotting trends shaping up in the electrical industry. We invest mainly in companies that have proven their technology and are starting to gain some commercial traction. So we take the baton from incubators, competitiveness clusters and seed funds to speed up our champions’ growth. That’s why it’s very important for us to interact with our ecosystem on a regular basis.
Distributed technologies have all our attention right. This is a field of innovation that involves optimising energy use and decentralising output, which often comes from renewable sources.
Just what are the current trends in the energy industry?
Distributed technologies have all our attention right. This is a field of innovation that involves optimising energy use and decentralising output, which often comes from renewable sources. These issues play a growing role in discussions on changing the energy mix. Take solar power, for example. Technical strides are helping to boost grid parity, in other words competitiveness in relation to traditional energy sources, in the sunniest parts of the world, from Africa to the southern United States and southern Germany. We’re also looking closely at new business models based on distributed technologies, in particular third-party financing solutions that allow consumers to take advantage of these new resources without bearing the necessary initial investment costs. Also, the rising number of production outlets and resulting variability of supply generate more complexity on the grids to maintain the supply/demand balance. Managing this complexity is another challenge that leaves room for innovation.