The European Innovation Council (EIC) regularly hosts matchmaking initiatives under their EIC Corporate Partnership Programme. In the EIC Corporate Corner, we discover what makes these corporates tick, what's their approach to innovation and what they are looking for. After the EIC Multi-Corporate Day in Paris, France with EDF, Saint-Gobain and Solvay, we got together with three of their representatives.
On 18-19 October 2022 EDF, Saint-Gobain and Solvay co-hosted an EIC Multi-Corporate Day in Paris, France, bringing together 20 EIC innovators with over 100 representatives from the three corporates. In order to better understand the corporates’ approach to innovation, we sat down with Valerie Dijkstra, Director of Performance and Development at the Innovation and Pulse Programs Directorate of EDF, Minas Apelian, VP of Internal and External Venturing at Saint-Gobain NOVA and Matt Jones, Head of VC at Solvay.
Can you tell us about your approach to (open) innovation and the potential challenges you face in that aspect?
Valerie, EDF: Our approach is to get a good view of our pain points and to address them with the help of startups. The next step is to ensure that something will happen, be it partnering, creating a supply/demand relationship, or providing equity.
Minas, Saint-Gobain: Open innovation is fundamental to what all companies must do to effectively bring new ideas to the marketplace. Our role with SG NOVA is to engage startups. By working with them collaboratively, we can bring new concepts to our company as well as inspiration and insights to our team. In turn, it’s an opportunity to help SMEs succeed. That way we can build mutually interesting partnerships.
Matt, Solvay: Our role is to serve as a network connector between Solvay and interesting startups. We go to events like this EIC Multi-Corporate Day to broaden our network, find connections and connect to those startups where we see mutual interest with our teams internally.
Recently you teamed up with the EIC to co-host an EIC Multi-Corporate Day. Can you explain the motivations behind joining forces with the EIC for this initiative?
Valerie, EDF: We had strong motivations in joining the EIC for this day. It’s important to get feedback from your peers, innovation is not black or white. Sharing experiences and benchmarks on visionary solutions can only bring added value. In addition, it’s also a very useful and resourceful way to enter engaging face-to-face conversations with startups. The face-to-face aspect is important to grasp the mindset and maturity and ultimately decide if a startup is a good fit or not.
Minas, Saint-Gobain: The EIC is funding companies across Europe. Through this initiative, we can support these companies in connecting with corporate partners. In turn, it gives us access to startups we might not meet. It’s complex to meet startups from different European countries. During this event, we met companies from Estonia, Iceland, and countries where we might be less active. Yet, important innovations are happening everywhere. By extending our reach we can learn more and have a greater impact.
Matt, Solvay: The EIC is about expanding our network and leveraging their capabilities in Europe to connect us with corporate partners like EDF and Saint-Gobain, but also with the innovation ecosystems here in Europe.
What type of partnerships are you looking for with startups?
Valerie, EDF: We’re looking for solutions that can accelerate our mutual carbon targets. How that will take shape can come in many different forms. We’re just looking for a way to create win-win partnerships for all parties involved.
Minas, Saint-Gobain: There’s no formula or particular objective to start with. We want to understand what the startups are doing, and what’s mutually beneficial to create a partnership that makes sense. We’ve established many partnerships over the years and no two are the same. They are all a bit different, be it joint development, commercial partnerships, geographic expansion or direct investments.
Matt, Solvay: The type of partnerships we look to engage is as varied as the startups themselves. It’s all about how we can work together. It can be joint development, it can include investment or just working as a supplier and/or customer of materials. It’s about being fluid and working with them in a way that they need it, at a time that they need it.
Any advice/tips for companies that want to work with you?
Valerie, EDF: The most important advice I can give is to address it to us internally. We have to make sure our model, our needs, and our process are aligned. In addition, we must be resourceful and helpful to the startups. Luckily most startups are great at showcasing their solutions, so it’s up to us to find the right match internally.
Minas, Saint-Gobain: Be open, be honest and we will be open and honest in return. Our philosophy is that we want to bring something to them. The better we understand what they need, the better we can determine if we are the right partner.
Matt, Solvay: The number one tip: personalise it. Help us understand why you think Solvay can be additive to your company and solution. What can we bring to you? What would that partnership look like? Give us enough info to see if it’s interesting. The more we can hear about what they want to do, the more we can do to get it to the right place. That way we can be more efficient with everyone’s time.
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