National Grid, the electric utility company, is getting into the venture capital game, announcing a new venture investment and innovation unit that will make bets in advanced technologies and the enterprise software as a service market.
Dubbed National Grid Partners, the utility has earmarked $250 million for the VC unit and already made investments in five startups that it said will help the company deliver more advanced, efficient and reliable energy as well as IT solutions to customers.
Lisa Lambert, chief technology and innovation officer at National Grid will be heading up the investment efforts, bringing the knowledge she gained as a long-time executive at Intel Capital and The Westly Group to the new unit. She has years of technology, investing and energy experience, which National Grid said will help usher in a new phase for the utility company.
“Whether it’s investing in new technologies or getting smarter about how we work every day, we need to think more than one step ahead,” Lambert said in a press release earlier in November announcing the new investment unit. “We are the eyes and ears of the business, searching for the new ideas and breakthrough innovations that will keep us at the forefront of the energy industry.” The group will oversee innovation, incubation, corporate venture capital, business development, and its venture fellowship program.
In an interview with TechCrunch Lambert said the launch of the new venture arm is fueled by a need to stay ahead in an industry that is ripe for disruption. Lambert said if National Grid isn’t the disrupter it runs the risk of being disrupted. “That’s the only way to protect yourself in a world where really nobody is safe,” said Lambert, noting the deal sizes will vary. She said the industry is in much need of innovation and National Grid is perfectly suited to be the leader, pointing to what happened to telecom players when mobile exploded in the market. “If the telecom sector could do it all over again when mobile broke out — I think they would have done it differently. We don’t want to be in the same situation where we are resting on the strength of our asset profile or the fact that we are regulated; other industries had that same profile, it was hard for startups to break in and still, they got disrupted — massively disrupted,” she said in the TechCrunch interview.
The first five companies National Grid Partners invested in include AutoGrid, which uses big data to analyze energy data and create real-time actionable information, ClimaCell, which is a weather forecasting company, Leap, which operates a marketplace for distributed energy resources, Omnidian, which provides protection plans for investments in residential and commercial solar and Sitetracker, a SaaS platform that helps utilities and telecom operators optimize assets lifecycles. “We share many of the same core values as National Grid, especially, when it comes ensuring grid reliability and resilience,” said Giuseppe Incitti, CEO of Sitetracker when the investment announcement was made. “Our project and asset management software minimizes operational risks and is essential for circuit-savvy utility franchises that have no tolerance for disruptions.”