Corporates to Startups: Climate Innovation is Still a Long-term Priority

Experts from BASF, Saint-Gobain, and Schneider Electric—three of Greentown Labs’ most engaged partners—joined the Greentown community to share their perspectives on how startups can traverse this challenging time, and provided insight into how their companies are thinking about innovation, climate action, and the road beyond COVID-19.

The panel featured Bernhard Ulrich von Vacano, global head scouting and incubation, advanced materials & systems research at BASF; Minas Apelian, VP internal and external venturing at Saint-Gobain; and Jean-Louis Stasi, senior vice president, partnerships and innovation at Schneider Electric.

Here are highlights from the panel:

These corporates are sticking with their climate-focused innovation commitments.

Just like other companies around the world, Schneider Electric, BASF, and Saint-Gobain are being impacted by COVID-19’s economic downturn. But while the three corporates are navigating these present-day challenges, they still see the critical, ongoing need for climate innovation—and are still dedicated to bolstering that innovation.

“The need for switching to sustainable energy, making value chains more circular, it’s nothing that’s suddenly invalidated,” von Vacano said. “That’s the long-term game, the value is still there. I don’t see any fundamental changes in these megatrends.”

Their advice for startups during this difficult time: navigate the short-term while keeping your eyes on the long-term.

Just as their respective companies have a split focus on the present and future, the panelists say startups need to walk that line as well.

Von Vacano advised startups to be creative about what they can do for their companies remotely, while Apelian encouraged thinking about what value your startup can bring in a post-COVID-19 world.

“Some things are fundamentally the same, in terms of identifying pain points and bringing new solutions that bring value to people,” Apelian said. “In the context of COVID-19, I think it’s very likely that there are going to be a set of needs that simply didn’t exist, at least to the severity that they’re going to exist as we come out of this. Everyone is going to be trying to identify what those are, so stay close to the developments, be quick to respond to those opportunities and pain points.”

Stasi also recommended thinking about your company’s strategy for once we’re past the pandemic, and said it’s crucial to “hold onto your key people” during this time of financial turmoil.

These three companies are actively interested in conversations with startups.

All three panelists agreed: they still want to work with startups.

“We’re certainly open to new conversations and networking, and I would say no one should be hesitant to reach out,” Apelian said. “To the extent that we at Saint-Gobain—and I’m sure the others here—can maintain those dialogues, we’re not only open to doing it, we want to do it.”

When asked what one piece of advice he’d give to startups, Apelian said to stay positive: “Don’t view the challenge as a reason to be discouraged—use it as motivation to push forward. All the collective activity going on at Greentown Labs is going to be important in the long-term, and you should feel happy to be part of that, and just keep pushing forward.”

Want to work with Schneider Electric? If you are involved in energy storage, apply to Bold Ideas 2020—a corporate partnerships accelerator run out of Greentown Labs with Schneider Electric that is seeking Pre-Seed to Series B stage entrepreneurs who can enable the swift deployment, integration, and operation of energy storage assets at scale. The program draws on a proven roadmap rooted in coaching the startups and the corporate toward mutually beneficial partnerships. Learn more and apply by July 3! Follow Schneider Electric’s innovation activities here.

This corporate panel is part of Greentown Labs’ commitment to support startups as they navigate the impacts of COVID-19. To learn more about these efforts, follow us on Twitter or check out our blog.