Q&A with Chad Bown and Daniel Proske, managing partners, BP Ventures
Chad Bown Q&A
1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you have been doing it.
I am a managing partner on the BP Ventures team which has invested over $500m in technology companies across more than 40 entities with more than 200 co-investors. I bring financial leadership and commercial expertise alongside oil and gas operations and business development roles with prior managerial work experience at Shell and Jacobs Engineering. I was a captain in the United States Air Force and hold a degree in business as well as an MBA. I currently sit on the boards of Belmont, BiSN, SMG, Fotech and Stryde.
2. What attracted you to CVC?
No company is immune to disruption, and companies will always need to act strategically to secure the company’s long-term future. One of the most effective ways for companies to strategically deploy capital to drive future growth and financial returns is through CVC. CVC is a great way to complement existing corporate transformation initiatives by opening the enterprise to embrace and absorb the innovation taking place outside the company.
3. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?
I really love the interaction with early-stage startups and bringing people’s passions to realisation. The challenge lies in taking these passions and putting a structure to them, from a technology roadmap, capital and governance perspective, and then nurturing the transformation from concept to hopefully a successful business. That is why I love what I do. To be clear, sometimes the process works and many times it does not. Either the technology is too early for the market or the team is not able to execute. But when a technology successfully comes to life, it can move the needle for a market sector or industry.
4. What have been your biggest challenges?
Providing low carbon energy to society is extremely impactful. If we are going to try and achieve net-zero, then the world will need energy in a multitude of forms. Our customers are asking for cleaner products from cleaner energy sources, and BP is directing its capital towards that objective.
5. What is your main professional ambition for the future?
We are at the forefront of reimagining energy and energy systems. It’s very exciting, but it’s also a big challenge to expand from the production of oil and gas towards the zero-carbon solutions that will ensure industries and societies achieve net-zero ambitions. If there’s one industry that continues to be on the cusp of disruption, it is the energy industry. The companies that are part of this energy transition are going to be exciting places to work for. For me, this is an extremely fulfilling professional ambition to be a part of.
6. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?
CVCs should think longer term from initial investment through to portfolio management and continue to invest through the cycle. CVC units also need to develop and execute a CVC strategy that will effectively balance the strategic goals of the enterprise against the need for strong financial returns. When this is done correctly, it makes the CVC industry stronger.
7. What are some of your corporate parent’s technology needs and corporate strategy amid the pandemic, as well as your CVC unit’s pain points?
At BP Ventures we continue to make investments at pace and are continuing to successfully manage our portfolio of investments. The current pandemic has made work more challenging, as businesses have been impacted across the board – not just from technology development at pace but also in terms of revenue. Providing appropriate governance and support to startups in these challenging times has really required a different set of skills and an empathetic leadership style. BP recently announced a new strategy to become an integrated energy company which has further focused BP Ventures on new opportunity deal flow.
8. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?
After finishing my university undergraduate degree, I made the decision to join the US military where I was honoured to lead technology developments for the US Air Force Space Programme. There I worked on the successful launch of modernised Global Positioning Satellites (GPS), in support of a broad range of military and industry commercial applications. Soon the energy industry came calling – I jumped at the chance to join an oil and gas company that was active in the early days of the shale revolution. I learnt that to be successful in this competitive environment, companies need to be nimble and efficient in their pursuit of enhanced operational models. Deploying new disruptive technologies also played a critical role in my work. I developed business processes that increased production, delivered reduced environmental impacts, and were safer than before. I soon recognised that being in a truly transformative business was important to me. I had a wide range of experiences working on big projects and developing new technologies, and so I joined BP in 2011.
Daniela Proske Q&A
1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, and what attracted you to CVC?
I joined BP Ventures almost three years ago and I am in charge of our investments to support the growth of BP’s business in our customer and products unit. We are aiming to become a leading provider of solutions for the future world of mobility by enabling electrification of vehicles and providing mobility services and convenient solutions. I am serving as a member of the board of directors of FreeWire Technologies, RepairPal, Mendel Technologies and MaaS Global Oy.
Venturing plays a key role in BP’s strategy to tackle the dual challenge of meeting the world’s need for more energy, while at the same time reducing carbon emissions to achieve our ambition to become a net-zero company in 2050.
BP Ventures was set up in 2006. Since then we have invested more than $500m in more than 40 companies, in businesses as diverse as acetylated wood, biojet fuels and artificial intelligence.
At BP Ventures we look beyond a quick financial return from the investments we make. We want to see new technologies deployed into our businesses, and we recognise this takes effort, commitment and specialist skills.
The chance to build new businesses or to support existing ones in BP through access to new technologies, products or business models develop by startups really excites me.
Having an entrepreneurial background, I am thrilled to work for BP Ventures because we are very active corporate investors and portfolio managers, we often request a board seat with premise is to help our companies to commercialise their technologies or products successfully.
2. What have been your greatest successes at your unit?
I have led an investment in MaaS Global, a startup based in Helsinki, Finland which is a leading player in mobility aggregation, with a holistic city offer. The MaaS Global platform provides access to the majority of purchasable transport options within a city, from public transport to non-conventional (ride-hail, bike-sharing), and critically facilitates in-app payment, providing a seamless customer experience. MaaS Global aims to become a carbon-neutral company by offsetting the carbon position of journeys taken through its platform.
BP Ventures invested in FreeWire back in 2017. FreeWire is a technology leader at the intersection of two global megatrends – EV charging and energy storage. Their Boost charger uses existing low-voltage infrastructure coupled with an integrated battery buffer to enable ultrafast charging – eliminating grid upgrades and reducing installation costs & complexity by an order of magnitude.
As a board member, I have been able to guide the company in understanding macroeconomic forces around electric mobility, connect them with large strategic players in the space, contribute through leadership, direction, and strategic thinking around electrified transportation and specifically in terms of entrepreneurship and financing.
3. What have been your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is to build and keep a network of stakeholders in a big cooperation as a prerequisite for successful investments.
4. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?
Resilience and high-level support are critical, establishing a CVC arm takes time and high-level support, because of the illiquid nature and the time required for portfolio companies to achieve profitability or an exit. During a down business cycle, a CVC programme might become an easy target to eliminate. Adapting high-level support while navigating senior management changes and expectations is important.
Get the right team with both technical and business skills.
Develop and utilise rigorous screening and investment process, lacking which could lead to shooting from the hip.
Partnerships are key, building a network takes a long time, the results are seen in pre-qualified investment opportunities and access to companies in stealth mode, through co-investing with other VC, the investments are leveraged, beyond what’s possible with internal R&D.
5. What are some of your corporate parent’s technology needs and corporate strategy amid the pandemic, as well as your CVC unit’s pain points?
Continuity and commitment as well as perseverance are very important in those challenging times. Some corporations have established a CVC arm only to discontinue them after a few years, or in an economic downturn which is not very helpful because most of the startups are not profitable and therefore require continued financing. At BP Ventures we have been able to manoeuvre our portfolio through the crises
6. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?
Before joining BP I held a number of roles at BASF, I started as business development and global key account manager in intermediates. Afterwards, I was looking after BASF Ventures in North America. I led international M&A transactions for various business units in BASF’s M&A group. Prior to BASF, as a PhD student, I co-founded a life sciences company as head of finance. The company went public on the German stock market. Studied biochemistry at a university in Germany and studied economics in St Gallen, Switzerland.
I like hiking, mountain biking, skiing and diving, I was a passionate chess player.
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