New world, new challenges: Kicking off with this post, we’ll be sharing during the next days and weeks some Questions & Answers in a chat with Beta-i’s CEO, Pedro Rocha Vieira. You’ll get to know more about the big picture of what’s happening at Beta-i right now. A new moment, a 10-years retrospective, our new brand, future scenarios, our startup support and our global reach.
But let’s start by talking with Pedro about this very moment: the breaking news 🙂
Pedro, what’s changing at Beta-i and what’s happening under this repositioning and restructuring
Well, after 10 years of hard work in different areas, we managed to fulfil this first-decade mission: we were, and we proudly are a key player in the establishment of an innovation ecosystem in Portugal. We contributed to the mindset transformation process which has been happening in the Portuguese ecosystem over time, and we managed to be recognized as one of the leading startup accelerators in Europe.
However, now we are no longer in the phase of feeding this innovation ecosystem at its base, but rather helping to give it greater strength within the economy as a whole. Lean approaches, new in-company processes and especially, the collaboration between corporates, public services or other institutions with startups is an inescapable movement.
That’s why we’re undergoing this cycle of change, in order to continue to be relevant at a different level. In the last 3 years, we started to work to become a different type of consultancy firm, totally focused on bringing the startup way of working and making business growth to large organizations and vice-versa, as well as deploying our ecosystem building experience on different geographies. We now have clients and projects in almost 20 countries, on 5 continents. This is a matter of fact, not a vision – but to be very honest, this was still not exactly understood by the market. That’s why we are leveraging our approach.
Therefore we reorganized and redefined our areas, focusing essentially on the collaborative innovation territory. We have a team of experts and different frameworks to converge global startups, large companies, universities, researchers, investors, mentors and governments competencies to work on innovation programs and develop pilot projects with impact on the economy.
How important is this new positioning in the current context?
We were born in times of crisis and now we are “reborn” again in a new period of crisis – and this evolution was made at the right time to respond to current needs.
If 10 years ago we contributed to the generation of new ideas and entrepreneurship approaches to stimulate the economy, today the challenges are different. It is necessary to connect the old with the new economy in a logic of collaboration and win-win – from facing up and coming competitors as a target to be crushed, to see them as a potential partner. This is a paradigmatic shift. It is necessary to support startups as an economic agent of change, helping them to collaborate with companies. And put companies to collaborate with other companies, too – it’s mandatory to be aware that only together we can build this new future. And we’re all experiencing that, at this very moment, due to the pandemic.
So this Beta-i repositioning ends up giving us the necessary approach to face the current challenges and promoting collaborative innovation where everyone benefits, which naturally also includes the people impacted by the developed solutions.
Well yes, we do have some exciting news to share. We’re launching our new brand and everything that comes along in these key moments. We’re really happy with the final result – something that was already happening when the entire planet turned upside down with the pandemic:The interesting thing is that our value proposition – collaborative innovation – couldn’t be more aligned with the new challenges brought by this new brand world waiting for us out there, or already impacting us right now whenever we can be.
Beta-i has distilled its approach on innovation during the past years and if there’s a one really important thing to highlight at this point, is that what we’re saying is not a goal or a will. It’s a reality from here to the future. Beta-i has a global reach actually, a strong 10-year track record on innovation ecosystems and an expert team able to share this knowledge.
We have a new branch in Brazil, clients in 20 countries in the 5 continents and an admirable team of 50 people from 15 different nationalities.
We believe collaboration is the key to make things change. To solve things that matter. To help ecosystems and society grow. To, no bullshit, build a collective future. That’s what we have been doing; now, we’re just funnelling these services to the same destination: collaboration to innovate. We’ll keep connecting the innovation voices to transform ideas into a business, pilots into deals, solutions into impact to solve complex changes.
Beta-i was created during the last Portuguese crisis, in the second half of 2009, with the deep motivation of being part of the solution and help to create an innovation ecosystem able to support the next generation of entrepreneurs. We helped to make that in Portugal and abroad, and now we’re leveraging this in a global scale – helping corporates, startups, universities, investors, social impact organizations and other voices to work together. We’re starting a new phase in the best possible moment.
So you’re invited to explore our new site and follow our social media channels. And stay tuned: we have a lot more to share during the next months. And to tell, after 10 years of ongoing innovation.
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:
The Lisbon Tourism Summit, organized by Beta-i and sponsored by Turismo de Portugal, will take place on March 17th, at Universidade Nova de Lisboa rectorate. It is an event dedicated to innovation in the tourism sector, whose main objective is to create strong connections between startups, national and international investors, tourism entrepreneurs, researchers and organizations. According to the data released by Banco de Portugal, referring to November 2019, tourism revenues reached 984 million euros, which means a year-over-year growth of 9.8%.
The 2019 edition of the Lisbon Tourism Summit focuses on a more sustainable approach on the tourism sector, “a segment that requires deepening in strategic themes such as circular economy, mobility, artificial intelligence and energy efficiency so that it is possible to actually talk about sustainability“, emphasizes Gonçalo Faria, Events Director at Beta-i. In such a professional but relaxed environment, the Lisbon Tourism Summit will count on the participation of several national and international speakers, with the emphasis on the sustainability designer, sociologist and businesswoman, Leyla Acaroglu. Awarded as Champion of the Earth by the United Nations, Leyla is also the author of several books and TED Talks. Check what she has to say as, in her own words, a sustainability provocateur:
The Lisbon Tourism Summit is an integral part of Turismo de Portugal’s innovation strategy to manage the growth of this industry in the country over the past few years. Beta-i is a strategic partner in this because, in addition to LTS, it also organizes The Journey – an open innovation program that facilitates collaboration between leading companies in the tourism industry (such as Grupo Barraqueiro, Vila Galé, Parques de Sintra – Monte da Lua and Unicre) with technological solutions from startups around the world. The results of its latest edition will be presented within the LTS: there will be more than a dozen project presentations, involving startups from Europe and Asia.
Support for entrepreneurship and innovation is a top priority for Portuguese tourism strategy. For this reason, the Lisbon Tourism Summit will also bring together lectures, panel presentations and workshops dedicated to topics such as Sustainable Destinations, Data Science for Tourism professionals, the adaptation of business models to the circular economy and energy management for tourism. To purchase tickets, have a look at the full agenda and event speakers, please access here.
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!