26 – 100 in alphabetical order: Thomas Birr, Innogy

Thomas Birr, chief executive of Innogy Innovation Hub, Germany-headquartered energy utility Innogy’s accelerator and corporate venture capital arm, and chief futurist and senior vice-president of innovation and business transformation at Innogy.

Birr said: “At the Innogy Innovation Hub, we invest in the technologies and business models that have the potential to transform the future of energy. It is a bold vision and we take a bold approach, combining traditional corporate VC with accelerator and angel investing.

“This gives us unparalleled access to the most promising startups and presents unique opportunities to create value and innovate. In a short space of time, we have built a world-class team of investment experts, sector specialists and founders and entrepreneurs that has set us on a course to drive exponential growth in our portfolio.”

Innogy Innovation Hub was set up in 2014 to identify globally the technologies, ideas, individuals and businesses that will help build the future of energy, providing funding, mentoring and a platform for co-creation, collaboration and convergence.

Central to the Innovation Hub’s vision is that new technologies, business models and consumption patterns will redefine the energy market of the future. As new technologies emerge, traditional sector boundaries are blurring, while new business models are creating new value chains. Energy is foundational to disruption in adjacent sectors including mobility, telecoms and proptech.

Therefore the hub invests in four focus areas as the basis for its portfolio approach:

  • Smart and connected: Future internet of things and mobility business models that make each customer both a consumer and a prosumer.
  • Disruptive digital: Future data-driven business models that deliver an enhanced energy system experience for customers.
  • Cyber-ventures: Breakthrough methods to protect the bigger threat surface created by increased digital connectivity of business and society.
  • Machine economy: Future technologies that enable and define emerging interactions with and among machines.

Since it started making investments in late 2015, it has invested in nearly 90 companies and built a portfolio of €162m ($182m), as of December 2018. Last year was an active year for the hub, having invested in 61 companies growing the value of its portfolio by over 50%.

The hub is headquartered in Berlin, with teams across Europe, including in London in the UK, Warsaw in Poland and Essen in Germany, as well as offices in Palo Alto in the US state of California

Innogy provides opportunities for its portfolio companies to thrive independently to transform the energy sector. A number of its portfolio companies have Innogy as a customer or are running proof of concepts within Innogy, but a greater validation of its strategy is that seven of the companies it has founded or provided pre-seed capital have received further rounds of funding from other external parties.

Innogy Innovation Hub said: “We have continued to play an active role in forging partnerships and take an ecosystem approach to support our portfolio companies and maximise their potential. In 2018, we were involved in 10 accelerator programs globally, providing opportunities for more than one-third of our portfolio companies to participate. This included Free Electrons, the world’s first global energy accelerator, which we founded and now includes the participation of 10 international utilities with a total customer base of 80 million.

“It also includes ScaleUp Hub UK that we launched in 2018 with Wayra UK, part of Telefonica, and the Catapult Network. The first cohort resulted in 18 trials.”

Innogy Innovation Hub said its networking activities in 2018 largely followed its strategy to focus on “fringe” events as well as hosting and co-hosting private invitation-only events in order to get in close contact with relevant stakeholders.

In addition, the hub arranged and participated in other smaller meetups and private dinners in Palo Alto, Tel Aviv, London, Essen and Berlin throughout the year to engage with the local innovation, entrepreneurial and investor ecosystems.

“Most importantly,” the hub added, “our vision and activities deserve their own stage.” Thus, it hosted its own “conference in a day” – the UnConference – in Berlin where around 400 guests from its global innovation network joined to hear and share thought-provoking insights on unlocking innovation from top industry business leaders and experts.

Taking place at Café Moskau, its network of business leaders, entrepreneurs, investors and startups from various industries had the opportunity to engage with its investment portfolio of more than 80 global startups and explore how their innovative solutions could grow and transform their own businesses.

Innogy Innovation Hub has 45 employees in six locations globally and recently added operations in Central and Eastern Europe.

Regarding exits, the hub said: “As we only started to build our portfolio in mid-2016, we have not exited many of our portfolio companies to date. We have had one small exit – Sweden-based heat exchanger technology producer Airec – and in the first quarter of 2019, we have already received offers for three exits but in each case have decided to remain a shareholder.”

He holds a degree in mechanical engineering from Hamburg Polytechnic.