The theme from this year’s Global Corporate Venturing Symposium in London last month was “the view from the crow’s nest”. It was chosen thanks to a suggestion by Girish Nadkarni, head of corporate venturing at Switzerland-based industrial group at ABB, that corporate venturing was acting as the crucial insights service to corporate chief executives.
And backing him up was Nadkarni’s boss, Ulrich Spiesshofer, president and CEO of ABB, who, in nominating Girish for our GCV Powerlist 2016, published in time for the symposium, said: “In the digital environment, technologies are being developed and are converging at a rapid and accelerating pace, challenging business models and transforming industries.
“As a pioneering technology leader, ABB created ABB Technology Ventures seven years ago to broaden our options for the future by scouting emerging technologies and business models, and making strategic investments.
“In this regard, Girish and his team at ATV have done an outstanding job of identifying and investing in areas such as robotics, machine learning, augmented reality and cybersecurity.”
Spiesshofer was not alone in recognising this need of the C-suite for better insights. Across sectors and regions, the same feedback by CEOs came for the GCV Powerlist.
Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO, said: “IBM Ventures is essential to how we engage entrepreneurs and developers who are building innovative applications and technologies for cognitive solutions and cloud platforms. I am delighted to have George [Ugras] leading our efforts to amplify this essential component of IBM’s strategy.”
Thomas Rabe, CEO of Bertelsmann, said: “BDMI plays a critical role in Bertelsmann’s innovation and growth efforts.”
Stefan Oschmann, chairman of the executive board and CEO of Merck, said: “Beyond the innovation activities in our current businesses, we benefit significantly from the strategic investments we make through MS Ventures in our core fields and beyond our current scope. Roel [Bulthius] has been instrumental in building the fund and is the driving force behind it.”
Unsurprisingly, therefore, these CEOs and others are increasing their time and resource allocation to corporate venturing as a cost-effective and important tool to help lead the company to future revenues and profits.
The application of digital technology alongside a host of other technological and business model innovations is creating new opportunities and threats. Ride-hailing service Uber might be valued at about $62bn and have raised $11bn but could it be disrupted by a rival, such as Didi Chuxing, or Google’s Wazerider free application, before it reaches monopolistic-scale profitability? Who knows, but the sums and potential are huge when power law economics and a global market are taken into consideration.
Breaking into the venture market, however, is relatively hard. Convenience store owner 7-Eleven’s corporate venturing unit is effectively stalled after the departure of its 7-Ventures co-founders (see news report). Plenty more corporations are seeing the strategic imperative, but the smartest ones are those that look to learn from peers through the right training events, conferences and information services.
To get a sense of how widespread the interest in innovation capital has become, GCV Analytics tracks more than 1,500 units involved in nearly 2,000 deals a year. Take a look at this year’s corporate attendees – there was not room on the slide above for the logos from all the other corporations, major governments, universities, VCs and others flying into London for the symposium. Thanks to you all.