Paul CampbellSchneider Electric is a global leader in energy management and automation, for buildings, cities, energy grids, industry and homes. We sat down with Paul Campbell, Vice President of Innovation at the Silicon Valley Innovation Center to discuss their Open Innovation activities.

Why has Schneider Electric decided to open a global research and innovation center?

With the current pace of innovation and technology developments, in particular the proliferation of renewable energy and the explosion of IoT, Schneider Electric’s businesses are being disrupted through every angle. More is coming, faster, with more data points, more analytics, and more intelligence. We are figuring out how to make sense all of this data and innovate new relevant services to our customers.

Schneider Electric covers everything from sensors, to hardware, to software, and analytics, but several pieces are missing. For this reason, the company has adopted an Open Innovation approach to work closely with startups and fill certain gaps.

“The intersection of IoT and energy is the sweet spot for energy management innovation. Internet of Things technologies not only feed directly into R&D, but create new business models that encourage greater participation among consumers and provide access to new revenue streams,” said Paul Campbell, Vice President, Innovation, Schneider Electric. “We look forward to building our innovation program with leading start-ups dedicated to changing the face of energy.”

What has been your approach in building the office out here?

The biggest challenges with open innovation are onboarding startups, generating the first revenue and scaling to a size that can make an impact on the company. For this reason, we focused our early efforts in building the onboarding infrastructure within the company.

This means building a team with researchers, program managers and dedicated finance, supply chain, legal and HR resources who work solely with the open innovation team and the startups. Once this was set-up, it was much easier to start scouting innovative companies that could complement Schneider’s business. The objective of the Research and Innovation Center in Silicon Valley is to build research teams alongside open innovation scouting.

Which open innovation model has worked best?

In order to succeed in building valuable partnerships with startups, we need to start with a business unit’s strategic gap or opportunity. They will express a specific need that they are looking to be filled, then the open innovation team can go out and start scouting and meet with startups. Our role is to evaluate the startups from a technical perspective, then integrate them by forming the necessary partnerships internally and expand the solution to fit what our customers would want.

How do you scout startups?

For early-stage startups we scout through our partners such as the Open Innovation Club, we attend industry events, startup hackathons and pitch sessions, search databases, and collaborate with university incubators. We look mostly at the innovation, the technology and IP in order to expand our portfolio of services.

Schneider is a strategic partner in Aster Capital’s investment fund, which allows us to invest in later stage startups. We then help do the market and customer validation and then technology integration. Startups like this model because they like the option to validate their technology or business model at an early stage without giving up a piece of their company. It’s about working together collaboratively to create great new businesses together.

What have been some of your achievements in the past year?

Last year we scouted more than 200 startups. We identified 10 that fit our strategic opportunities and committed to partner with 7 of them. We have already formalized 2 partnerships and doing proof of concepts with 3 others.

What is one area you are particularly excited about?

Schneider Electric is a leader in building efficiency. In this space there has been an evolution from smart buildings, to intelligent buildings, and now towards “well-buildings”. The industry is now focusing more on indoor air quality, occupant well-being, health, workplace efficiency, etc… This is an area we don’t have enough expertise in and look forward to establishing valuable partnerships and developing new products and services around with the support from startups.

For more details on Schneider Electric’s Innovation Center in Silicon Valley and some recent partnerships, see the latest press release.

Join us on Thursday May 26 for the Smart City TechMeeting where Paul will participate in our panel discussion alongside Inria and Opterra Energy Services.