The top 25: Geert van de Wouw, managing director, Shell Ventures

Geert van de Wouw has been a vice-president for Anglo-Dutch oil and gas supplier Shell and managing director for its corporate venturing unit, Shell Ventures, since mid-2012.

Shell Ventures invests strategically in early-stage companies that are developing innovative energy technologies, and it also backs technology spinouts of Shell. The unit focuses on three areas: oil and gas technologies, renewables and information technology.

Mark Gainsborough, executive vice-president at Shell New Energies, said: “Through Shell Ventures, our New Energies business obtains early insights into disruptive trends in our industry and creates options for future business growth. This allows Shell to anticipate the change that is happening as a result of the energy transition.”

In an in-house interview conducted by Shell’s senior employee relations adviser of new energies, Kunal Dutta, Van de Wouw talked about the differences between investing in cleaner-energy technologies and internet startups.

“In the early 2000s, when companies like [internet company] Google and [e-commerce firm] Amazon were in the startup phase, they were a digestible proposition that came with shorter development times. Building ventures in the energy industry, however, takes far more time and capital,” he said.

“Energy is needed for almost every aspect of modern-day life, from transport and cooking to heating and manufacturing. Scale is important. But the problem with scale is that it can be expensive and hard to reach in the energy industry.

“This is what sets energy apart from the traditional technology sector. [Consumer electronics producer] Apple, for instance, has the luxury of rolling out the latest version of its iOS software to millions of customers in a matter of days. In contrast, it can take between six and 10 years to reach an equivalent scale in the energy industry.”

Van de Wouw added that for an oil and gas idea to be attractive for Shell Ventures, the technology has to save costs for Shell’s operations. “We have to be assured that if we invest and deploy that technology at scale, then it will deliver substantially to the bottom line,” he noted.

“In renewable technologies, we are interested in companies that are disrupting the traditional way of doing things.”

Shell Ventures receives roughly 500 proposals annually and invests in about five – just 1%. “Then there is a further 10% of the total in which we do not invest directly, but where we put the company in touch with other departments inside Shell that might consider using their technology,” he added.

Prior to joining Shell Ventures, Van de Wouw served as Shell’s Eurozone economic turmoil response lead, managing the economic crisis experienced by the supply chain sector from late 2011 to early 2012.

He had previously led the supplier management efforts for large, enterprise suppliers on behalf of Shell, having joined the group in 2003 to oversee Shell Global Solutions’ business development in Europe, Commonwealth of Independent States and Africa region.

Before joining Shell, Van de Wouw was regional director for business development at engineering, construction and maintenance services company Fluor Corporation in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Van de Wouw, who is also a private investor in multiple technology companies outside the oil and gas field, holds a master of science in molecular sciences from University of Wageningen and received postgraduate business education at IMD Business School.

GCV Powerlist 2020 PDF