Q&A with Malin Carlström, head of ventures, ABB Electrification

1. First, just give us a quick overview of who you work for, what you do, and how long you have been doing it for.

Since September 2020, I am heading the newly formed venture arm of ABB Electrification, the largest division within [Switzerland-headquartered power and automation technology producer] ABB with approximately 55,000 employees and 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.

2. Appointments you have held prior to your present one.

I have been in the financial venture capital arena my entire career, operating across the Nordics and doing investment in diverse fields.

3. What attracted you to corporate venture capital (CVC)? 

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.

4. What have been your greatest successes at your unit? 

ABB Technology Ventures hold 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.

5. What have been your biggest challenges? 

There is always a challenge of clock frequency, aligning the publicly listed mothership with the faster-moving, yet long-term-focused, 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.

6. What’s your main professional ambition for the future? 

I want to stay in the VC profession, conducting investments in the most promising tech companies and working with the most ambitious entrepreneurs.

7. What do you think all CVCs could do better to make it a stronger industry?

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.

8. And, finally, for colour, what did you do prior to CVC or in your spare time?

I am an entrepreneur on the side, starting my own companies. The latest within fintech, trying to digitize and make for more cost and time-efficient financial transactions for smaller companies in the Nordics. Today, the bare cost of a transaction can amount to 20% of the capital raised – this makes no sense.