The top 25: David Gilmour, BP Ventures

David Gilmour took responsibility for BP’s venturing activities at the end of 2016 after running Air BP, the aviation fuel supply business. He now leads the BP Ventures team as vice-president and has developed what he called last year “a new strategy highlighting the importance of technology and venturing in enabling the transition to a lower-carbon economy”.

His appointment underlines three significant developments in BP’s venturing strategy. First, it has a much larger capital pool for investment. Second, its scope has broadened and now includes digital lower-carbon energy and power, mobility and electric vehicles, bio-products and carbon management. Third, there is a greater emphasis on supporting portfolio companies and on deploying their technologies across BP’s asset base.

BP Ventures has invested more than $400m in at least 44 entities with more than 200 co-investors. In 2017 alone, BP committed close to $100m and helped establish commercial partnerships and deployments with 12 of its portfolio companies.

New deals included a £5m round alongside Schlumberger Ventures and GE Ventures for upstream group BisN, two $20m BP-led series B rounds for digital groups Beyond Limits and Victor, a funding round for Drover, which is ride-hailing service Uber’s main partner in London, and a contribution to a $60m Omnitracs-led round for automated vehicle technology developer Peloton Technology. In addition to these, the unit also closed around 20 follow-on investments.

Another 2017 milestone for BP was the granting to bio-products portfolio company Fulcrum of a $150m green bond provided by the State of Nevada. The group is increasingly looking to China beyond western markets for technology and innovation.

This month, BP Ventures said it was actively looking at direct investment opportunities in China in BP’s five strategic areas – advanced mobility; power and storage; carbon management; bio – and low carbon products and digital transformation – and partnered with local fund manager Nio Capital.

At the time of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) to establish a long-term partnershipto jointly explore opportunities in advanced mobility in China, Gilmour said: “We were impressed by NIO Capital’s pioneering spirit, complemented by both their local insights and global presence.

“BP Ventures supports the wider BP Group by identifying and investing in private, high-growth, game-changing technology companies. We believe that by partnering with NIO Capital BP will be able to access innovative business models and technologies, particularly in China’s new energy vehicle industry.”

Akira Kirton, GCV Rising Stars 2018 award winner, for his profile said: “This is all in service of the wider strategy and framework we announced as BP corporate in February 2016, where we committed to investing around $200m per year across five new sectors: digital, bio-products and low carbon, advanced mobility, carbon management and power storage.

“I guess the message we want to send out is that we are absolutely open for business, including in sectors that we did not necessarily invest in before, and with a broader remit to engage.

“At GCV’s London Symposium last year, we said we were looking to create a broader one-stop shop for companies, entrepreneurs and investors to partner BP. Behind the scenes, we have been working very hard to create that concept.

“Another wish we have is to really keep going beyond normal VC deals, and see how CVC units can access scale-up capital and private equity PE structures, just as we did with the PE-backed entities Fulcrum and Tricoya. This ultimately also benefits the startups, as it broadens opportunities in terms of partnerships that can be created.

“Finally, we would like to really broaden our ecosystem. So far, we have enjoyed working with our fellow CVCs and VCs predominantly based in mainland Europe and the US, but lately we have spent a lot of time thinking about how to become more global and access opportunities that are less mainstream.”

Meanwhile, under CEO Bob Dudley, BP has committed to the voluntary Oil and Gas Climate Initiative’s $1bn OGCI Climate Investments fund, where Kirton is board member. The fund launched in late 2016 aiming to accelerate the commercial deployment of low emissions technologies and made its first three investments at the end of last year.

“We can invest smart and deploy fast,” said Gilmour for last year’s GCV Powerlist profile. “Our investment in Fulcrum was closed three months after investment committee approval and BP is now very busy with Fulcrum on an operational level.”

BP’s investment focus can best be described as broad, but focused. “We are not going out of the corporate footprint. We are not trying to create the next Google and Facebook,” said Gilmour. “But our footprint certainly includes the re-emergence of bio-energy and cleantech as well as new modes of mobility including vehicle electrification.”

In addition to venturing, Gilmour’s responsibilities include technology commercialisation, as well as strategy and planning activities for group technology. His emphasis is on venturing as a means of business development. “Venturing is now front and centre from a business perspective,” he explained. “My intention is that BP Ventures can lead to the development and growth of long-term businesses within the group.”

It has certainly caught senior managers’ attention, with business unit leaders, such as Bernard Looney, CEO of BP’s powerful upstream division, exploring US-based venture companies managed by Meghan Sharp this year.

For Gilmour, who has a doctorate in inorganic chemistry from Oxford University and has responsibility for technology commercialisation and venturing activities at BP, as well as strategy and planning activities for group technology, these sorts of close connections being formed are helpful.

Prior to joining group technology in October 2016, Gilmour himself held roles as CEO and COO of Air BP, BP’s aviation fuel supply business, and a number of different roles as marketing and technology director, strategy director, performance unit leader and global sales director for Castrol Marine.