The Top 10: #1 Malin Carlström, head of ventures, ABB Electrification

Malin Carlström is head of ventures at ABB Electrification, the subsidiary of Switzerland-headquartered industrial company ABB that covers the electrical value chain.

Based in Sweden, Carlström joined ABB Technology Ventures (ATV) in December 2017 as a senior vice-president, managing industrial digitisation-focused deals in Northern Europe. ATV has invested over $200m and Carlström was involved in three new investments – two co-lead and one piggyback – plus multiple follow-on investments, having backed developers of robotics, artificial intelligence and machine learning, electric mobility and distributed energy technologies.

Carlström took up her current role in September 2020 to concentrate on investment opportunities in companies that are relevant to all of ABB’s industry segments, such as safe, smart and sustainable electrification. She partners ABB’s Distribution Solutions, Smart Power, Smart Buildings and Installation Products teams. Her new targets include smart cities, smart buildings, e-mobility, smart power and distribution, and smart industry.

“Since September 2020, I am heading the newly formed venture arm of ABB Electrification, the largest division within ABB with approximately 55,000 employees and an annual revenue of $13bn. This is my first time heading a venture team and I am setting up a global team that operates with an investment ambition of $20m per annum,” Carlström said.

She added: “If and when done correctly, there is a distinct value-add of CVC investments and involvement compared to the financial VCs; every dollar that is coupled with product and domain knowledge, market accessibility and R&D expertise is a more valuable dollar, leading to less burn rate, quicker time to market and more distinct product development. This is the potential of CVC – but it does not come easily.

“ABB Technology Ventures holds two unicorns in the portfolio – CMR Surgical and Northvolt – and we were early investors in both companies. Starting the ventures arm of ABB Electrification is a promising step towards a committed operation of ventures activities and the global ambition is definitely there.” ABB’s business units – including industrial automation, motion and robotics, and discrete automation – use ATV under Kurt Kaltenegger and his boss, Andreas Wenzel, to execute deals and so is the point of contact to the venture ecosystem.

Carlström also mentioned some challenges while conducting corporate venturing. “There is always a challenge of clock frequency, aligning the publicly listed mothership with the faster-moving, yet long-term focussed startup. Also, the notion of risk-taking must be altered; after all, the biggest risk in our fast-evolving technological development is taking no risks at all. Managing expectations and executing with speed are things that we always and consistently need to improve.

“I believe one has to be an integral part of an open innovation culture of the mothership. And make way for structural capital that enables faster decision making and efficient procedures that are in line with the financial VC market. The commitment of top management is also key, and here one must break away from quarterly earnings’ focus and replace it with longer-term vision and a willingness to engage with risk-taking.”