Karlsruhe. EnBW’s Innovation Lab is once again among the winners of the Digital Lab Award. EnBW scored with the expert jury from Capital, the German business magazine, and management consultants Infront for its outstanding expertise in scaling startups. The Karlsruhe-based energy group’s in-house innovation unit, which launches and builds external and internal startups, has been awarded the Digital Lab Award for the third time in a row.
This year, EnBW scored for its elite innovation capability of being able to scale up late-phase business models in a company builder. Last time, EnBW garnered an award for innovation development together with acclaim as a multifunctional ‘Swiss army knife’ with regard to innovation. With this latest award in an additional category, the innovation lab has shown, true to form, that it has other capabilities and can successfully deploy them in the established innovation process.
Few innovation labs have scaling capability
In this year’s iteration of the annual Corporations on the Track of Startups 2020 study, the consultants zeroed in on the late, scaling phase of the innovation process at 44 established German corporate groups. The innovation labs and their real-life business models were rated on the basis of self-evaluations and validation interviews. Key dimensions comprised growth and potential, speed and commercial success.
The study’s compilers report a “mixed picture” and conferred an award on just nine of the participating innovation labs. “Scaling evidently remains an elite capability that very few units possess,” its authors wrote. The subject of analysis was innovation work both within and outside of each candidate’s core business area. EnBW was the sole energy group among the winners in both categories, for each of which it secured third place with its company builder unit. The award for activities outside of EnBW’s core business is a special accolade because, as the study’s writers say, companies find “non-core innovation […] particularly hard.”
Company builder develops to commercial scale
“Ranking as the best German company builder in the energy industry is a great success for us. We only launched our venture developer two years ago, to support later-phase innovation projects,” said Christopher McLachlan, head of the EnBW company builder. Not just the award, but also the company builder’s revenue figures show that the group has grown to become an active player in the innovation landscape capable of producing successful business models. Revenue more than doubled between 2018 and 2019, with late-phase projects generating over €50 million last year. “Anyone who wants to be commercially successful with their innovation unit and is really seriously about it has to wield the full methodological toolbox. That includes a company builder that guides the transition from the incubation to the growth and scale phase and provides the right impetus and support. Because at the end of the day, ideas have to work and generate revenue in the market. That is what we and our teams work for every day,” McLachlan added.
Scaling success stories show long-term viability
The real-life innovation projects at EnBW rated in the study show how the individual support for business models in the group’s in-house company builder results in long-term growth. An example of a business model close to EnBW’s core business is SMIGHT, which was launched with a team of four five years ago and started with a smart multifunctional streetlight. The micro business unit has since broadened in scope and today is mainly involved in the collection of traffic data and of distribution network performance data. To date, the now 34-strong team have implemented more than 300 projects for customers and generated over €8 million in 2019.
Another innovation project, LIV-T, is proof that EnBW can also deliver solutions that are viable in the long term outside of its core business. The startup was launched on the market in 2017 with a digital oil level sensor for heating oil. Today, LIV-T is the go-to provider for German oil dealers with its OilFox brand. Working with the company builder, suppliers and customers, the startup has grown to become a leading provider of digital tank remote monitoring solutions. In this innovation phase, the company builder not only provides consulting. It is also an investor. That also makes it a critical provider of funding with a watchful eye on results and resource allocation.