26 – 100 in alphabetical order by company: Minas Apelian, vice-president of internal and external venturing, Nova by Saint-Gobain

Minas Apelian serves as vice-president of internal and external venturing at Nova, Paris-listed advanced materials producer Saint-Gobain’s strategic investment arm. He has led Saint-Gobain External and Internal Ventures teams to help drive innovation strategy for the firm.

Nova by Saint-Gobain’s team of about 10 people is based around the world. The unit studies roughly 1,000 startups per year, half of which are examined closely before 100 are selected to evaluate alongside Saint-Gobain’s different business units to seek out strategic fit.

Formed in 2006, Nova seeks startups developing technologies, services and products that align with Saint-Gobain’s focus on sustainability and well-being and offers the corporate’s resources and know-how to the entrepreneurs.

In March 2021, the unit backed 3D printing technology developer Continuous Composites and Ecomedes, a creator of cloud collaboration tools for the construction industry. The firm also made a limited partner commitment to China-based investment firm Richland Capital’s third venture capital fund the month after.

Apelian said in an in-house interview last year: “[In 2019], we closed 17 deals, about half of those were equity investments, the others were simply joint-development agreements of some kind and bringing in disruptive startups into the organisation.”

When sourcing investment opportunities, Nova identifies traits that can support or improve its core business, such as technologies or products that can enhance the construction value chain or that enable the development of more efficient building spaces.

In addition, Apelian said the team also asks hard questions: “How do we find the most innovative startups to bring in and partner with either as an investor, a codeveloper, a sponsor, or an advocate?  What value do these startups bring to Saint-Gobain and what value do we bring to the startups?”

He said working with entrepreneurs means getting insights into the future, so Saint-Gobain also considers three years ahead when thinking about long-term plans. “For startups, three years is the shortest time scale they are working on, it is more often longer than that in terms of the evolution of their business,” he added.

Innovation is often triggered by crises, according to Apelian, who gave the covid-19 pandemic as an example. “How you succeed is by putting talented and passionate people into the crucible and you give them access to all the resources we have at Saint-Gobain and you ask them, ‘How can we help you solve this problem?’

“I do not lose a moment’s sleep over the capability and capacity of our teams to solve any problem.”

Apelian holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Columbia University and master’s and PhD degrees in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has penned various publications and has invented or co-invented 18 patents.

Edison Fu

Edison Fu is a reporter and Asia liaison at Global Corporate Venturing.