26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Girish Nadkarni, Total Energy Ventures

As Patrick Pouyanne, chairman & CEO at France-based oil major Total, aptly said: “Our capital venture fund is a way to identify innovations which could make sense for Total to keep our eyes open to what is happening around us,” the constantly evolving energy and mobility ecosystems are seeing many changes lately.

Girish Nadkarni had been president of ABB Technology Ventures from 2009 until October 2016, before taking the president position at Total Energy Ventures (TEV) in 2017, relocating to Paris, France.

TEV has made more than 40 investments to date, including six new investments, three new funds and seven reinvestments in 2018. Nadkarni was quoted by Petroleum Review in February this year as saying: “As a corporate venture group, we have a dual mandate. We not only have to make sure there is a decent rate of return, but the investment must also have strategic relevance to Total. The technology may be potentially disruptive or signal emergent opportunities or help solve certain problems.

“Foremost, our interest is to probe technologies that address the entire energy value chain,” referring to the $32m series D round in September 2018 for US-based energy management technology developer Autogrid, which has developed a software that helps utilities, electricity retailers, renewable energy power providers and energy service providers manage their resources.

As for the fund’s approach, he told GCV: “Although we have invested across the various stages, as of 2018 we embarked on a ‘barbell’ strategy wherein the majority of our investments will be in growth-stage companies which have revenues of at least $5m and a proven product-market fit. At the other end of the barbell, we will invest in seed-stage companies which have highly disruptive technologies or business models.”

TEV has invested in France, Germany, Spain, the US, China, Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, in sectors including distributed energy management, mobility, electric aviation, solid-state batteries, energy access home automation and internet of things (IoT).

Nadkarni said, like other CVC funds, one metric used to measure TEV’s success was the financial return. However, he also valued the lessons learnt to avoid future pitfalls.

He added that TEV would also commit to $10,000 to $500,000 in the next five years to fund more than two dozen seed-stage startups with “high-disruptive potential” to gain innovative technologies.

TEV also invests in VC funds, for example, Cathay China Smart Energy Fund and Energy Access Fund, for new tech and markets and if it can have active engagement among other factors.

Nadkarni said while TEV had not acquired any portfolio companies, Total had acquired many venture-backed companies, especially companies identified by TEV as potential investment targets. An example is G2Mobility, a France-based developer of a smart charging system for electric vehicles (EV).

TEV works closely with portfolio companies in different fields, such as:

  • France-based business decision making software developer Cosmotech for augmented intelligence.
  • US-based seismic data recording system supplier Wireless Seismic for oil exploration.
  • France-based sensing technology developer Avenisense for sensors.
  • Spain-based freight shipping services marketplace owner OnTruck – dubbed “truck-based Uber” – for logistics.
  • Tanzania-based renewable energy technology developer Zola Electric for energy access in Africa.
  • US-based energy management technology developer AutoGrid Systems for distributed energy management.
  • US-based rotor-empowered vertical take-off and landing air cargo logistics system developer Elroy Air for logistics drones.
  • US-based battery technology developer Ionic Materials for solid-state batteries.

Nadkarni said TEV had formed region-specific teams: “In addition to our traditional investment areas, we created two new teams, both headed by very impressive women. The first is to invest in Asia, with the primary focus being on China. In 2018, we invested in two funds – one of which we anchored – and invested in two companies.”

For instance, the Asia-focused team at TEV financed US-based and China-focused EV lithium-ion battery provider Octillion and China-based AI-empowered IoT fleet management service provider G7.

“The other team invests in the emerging markets, with emphasis on Africa. This team focuses on energy access for people living off-grid and low carbon technologies. They made three investments last year in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.”

With its endeavours in Africa, Total hopes to provide wider energy access to emerging markets. The Africa-focused team funded Nigeria-based shared energy IoT software supplier Solstice Energy Solutions and Ghana-based smartphone-empowered pay-as-you-go solar energy system provider PEG, for instance.

TEV also has had activities in its home ground Europe, apart from the aforementioned France-based Cosmotech and Avenisense as well as Spain-based OnTruck, the unit also counts Germany-based electrolyser and fuel cell developer Sunfire in its portfolio.

Before setting up ABB Technology Ventures, Nadkarni was senior vice-president of ABB’s robotics division. He also worked as an entrepreneur-in-residence at venture capital firm View Group and was the founder and CEO of the startup VSimplify.

Nadkarni’s past roles included work at industrial conglomerate GE, financial group Prudential and law firm Shearman & Sterling. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and studied law, economics and statistics at University of Mumbai.

Nadkarni is deeply involved in the corporate venturing world: “I have been quite active speaking at various conferences such as EcoSummit, Innovation Roundtable, Sino French Forum on AI, and the GCV Summit in London. I have also judged the INSEAD Venture Capital Competition and mentored companies at Techstars Paris.”