Corporate Open Innovation Platforms That Can Be Helpful For Cleantech Startups, Universities & Research Labs

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By Denis Kuznetsov

Open innovation has been a hot topic in the business world since its introduction by Professor H. Chesbrough in 2003. Having initially evolved in technology and consumer goods corporations (like IBM and P&G), the open innovation paradigm is now spreading to most industries, including energy and cleantech. In simple words, the open innovation concept encourages companies to integrate external problem-solvers into the internal innovative process. In this case, customers, startups, inventors, universities, labs and different online communities become a part of company’s R&D process.

In the past few years, a lot of big companies have launched their own open innovation platforms, in order to attract external partners and benefit from collaboration with them. At the same time, open innovation gives excellent opportunities for all participants of the process. Individual inventors and academic researchers can implement their ideas otherwise unexplored; startups can attract funding or get access to distribution channels and production resources of large companies. Finally, open innovation can initiate fruitful partnerships between inventors, industry and academia in solving global problems, thus bringing benefits to all society. In this context, I would like to present a list of corporate open innovation platforms and services, dedicated to different fields of energy and cleantech sectors.


Novozymes is a Danish biotech company with a strong focus on enzyme production. Novozymes has initiated several open innovation actions related to biofuels. Collaborative crowd-foresighting is focusing on identifying and assessing emerging technologies, needs and problems via roundtables and Twitter. Through crowdsourcing, the company wants to engage as many brilliant minds as possible to generate cutting-edge ideas together.

Energy Efficiency

Philips, a global electronics company, is practicing open innovation through its global ongoing Simply Innovate platform. Part of this platform is dedicated to lighting innovation and energy efficiency.

Energy Storage

Samsung SDI is an environment-friendly energy solution company, providing lithium-ion secondary battery solutions for various applications that range from mobile devices and electric vehicles to energy storage systems. With an open innovation process, Samsung SDI seeks to combine new ideas from outside institutions, paving the way for innovations in technology and products.

Despite the fact that Unilever is a consumer goods company, its open innovation portal embraces various fields, including energy and cleantech. Through the open innovation portal, Unilever is seeking new ideas for renewable energy storage. The company is interested in collaborating on  thermal storage, hydrogen, height differentials and heat exchange.

Green Chemicals 

AkzoNobel is a Dutch multinational, active in the fields of decorative paints, performance coatings and specialty chemicals. The company is consistently ranked as a leader in the area of sustainability. AkzoNobel engages with open innovation in a number of ways, including seeking out partnerships and requesting ideas through its online portal Open Space.

Power Generation and Engines

Cummins is an American company that designs, manufactures, and distributes engines, filtration, and power generation products. Cummins has established an open innovation portal where outside inventors can share their ideas, related to company’s services and products.

Smart City

GDF Suez is looking to partner with innovators to create the city of tomorrow. Through the i3 platform, the company is looking for new technologies or service models related to sustainable mobility, connected cities, smart buildings, or efficient gas, electricity and data infrastructure solutions.

Smart Grid

ABB has a strong commitment to the open innovation approach. By partnering with universities, research institutions and other external partners, ABB wants to create a truly collaborative open smart grid ecosystem.


Through its Open Innovation Pilot Project, South African electricity public utility Eskom wants to engage anyone who has a possible solution to help solve some of its challenges and needs.

Waste & Recycling

Harsco Metals & Minerals is a diversified company working across the metals, mining and energy sectors. The company’s open innovation platform is mainly dedicated to waste recovery technologies. Through collaboration with external partners, Harsco wants to minimize the environmental impact of production, improving energy efficiency and improve resource recovery from waste materials.

Various Cleantech Fields

GE has delved into open innovation, launching its Ecomagination Challenge that solicits ideas for new business ventures relating to energy and environmental issues (Renewable Energy, Grid Efficiency, Low Carbon Technologies and Eco Buildings). The latest GE’s Ecomagination Challenge has been launched in partnership with Saudi Aramco in April 2014, and is aimed at finding renewable energy solutions for seawater desalination.

Every year Siemens enters into over 1,000 cooperative projects with universities, research institutes, and industrial partners in an effort to strengthen its portfolio of innovations for the long term. Siemens initiates open innovation collaboration in various fields, such as carbon dioxide capture in power plants, electric cars, solar panels, smart grids and eco-cities.

VIA (Veolia Innovation Accelerator) is a Veolia Environnement initiative to support green growth around the world by promoting the development and deployment of clean technologies in partnership with inventors and entrepreneurs. VIA covers a large number of clentech facets, such as water management, wastewater, desalination, recycling & waste recover, CO2 management, EVs, smart cities, heating & cooling, biomass and energy efficiency.

Endesa follows an open innovation approach that takes into consideration initiatives and projects that meet the challenges facing the energy sector. Specifically, the company is interested in new ideas in energy efficiency, small-scale renewable energy, smart grids, energy storage, low carbon emission technologies and e-mobility.

Open innovation is becoming an effective instrument in solving important issues facing society, including climate change, energy and sustainable development. Breakthrough ideas can (and often do) emerge from bringing a new and diverse perspective to familiar problems. In that way, the strategic open collaboration between companies, academia, individuals and public agencies offers a big potential for shared value creation that can reform markets and industries, improve efficiency and productivity of private and public organisations and tackle the grand challenges with new approaches.

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