As one of the world’s largest energy providers, it’s no surprise that Shell is investing heavily to future-proof for changing and rising energy demands. In fact, the company intends to invest up to $1 billion a year in new solutions by 2020 in three main areas: new fuels for transport, renewable power, and ways to connect customers with new business models for mobility and energy
services. What’s surprising is that its approach is entrepreneurial,
including collaborating with startups to unlock innovation. Some
of these partnerships can be
seen in the award-winning
which supports six “bright
energy” inventors whose
creations are impacting communities around the world,
such as taking safe, clean
lights to Kenya. Last year,
the inventions went viral
in a music video featuring
Jennifer Hudson. This year,
they’re going mobile as part of the Shell Synergy truck, a futuristic food truck created with U.S. college students and featured at
Fast Company’s annual Innovation Festival in October.
FastCo.Works spoke with MALENA CUTULI, who leads the
#makethefuture campaign as group head of integrated brand
communications and capability, and GEERT VAN DE WOUW,
managing director of Shell Technology Ventures (STV). As a
pioneering corporate venture fund in the oil and gas industry,
STV is both investor and partner for startups speeding up the
deployment of innovative energy technologies.
FCW: Of all the ways to showcase new technologies,
why a food truck?
Malena Cutuli: Food is a universal passion we all love talking
about. By combining these technologies in a food truck, we can
spark a wider conversation about energy that’s more engaging
than us talking in very scientific and technical terms. It surprises
people because often they are unaware that Shell is doing anything other than traditional hydrocarbon solutions, when actually, we’re continuously collaborating with innovators and have
a division dedicated to driving new energy solutions as well as
our investment fund, STV.
FCW: What are some of the innovations in the truck?
MC: One is GravityLight [in which a falling weight powers an
LED light for up to 20 minutes], which last year we helped launch
in Kenya, where people use kerosene lamps that are very harmful to their health. And the walkway in front of the truck, where
people “dance for their food,” is made by Pavegen, which helped
us build a footstep-powered soccer pitch in Rio de Janeiro; people play all day and light it up at night with their footsteps.
FCW: What does Shell Technology Ventures look for in
Geert van de Wouw: We look for innovators in the oil and
gas, new energies, and digital domains that will help us address
the challenges within our business and with the potential to shift
the energy ecosystem. The management team is critical—it’s
better to invest in great people than in great tech with a poor
team behind it. Not least because we’re more than investors,
we’re also customers of every startup we’ve invested in.
FCW: What technologies are you excited about right
Gv W: From 25 investments, we’ve pulled out of just two—
beating the VC average—because we o;er not just funding
but the weight of our R&D and scientific expertise as well as a
global customer base and network to help our partners develop
their concepts. Sense is an exciting one—it’s a platform that
gives homeowners real-time data on the power usage of every
appliance in the home—and Kite Powered Systems, which is a
long-term partner. We’ve recently joined forces with two other
energy firms to help bring their plan for the world’s first kite
power station to reality.
FCW: Some might wonder if this is all window dressing
to distract from your responsibility to tackle climate
change and address the energy transition?
Gv W: As a business full of engineers, our first question is always “does it actually work?” Engineers are problem solvers
and we’re excited about finding and developing future energy
solutions for a rapidly changing world. STV is not a social investment fund; we deliver returns and help our partners succeed, but we do look
for opportunities to
create shared value
for society. Our latest venture fund in
Nigeria, for example, is creating new
entrepreneurs in a
country where we
have a major presence and want to
help diversify the
economy and help
society electrify its
This article was created
for and commissioned
Created in Collaboration with SHELL
Fueling the Future of Energy
Energy giant Shell is tapping an unlikely resource to develop
clean power solutions: small, innovative startups.
Shell’s Geert van de Wouw
and Malena Cutuli
In Brazil, Shell partner Pavegen converts the
energy from soccer players’ footsteps into
electricity for the field.