Building open innovation arena for energy startups

18 startups. 9 countries. 1 month of intensive mentoring. 15 minutes of pitching and a full house of audience. The Enrupt Energy Innovation Arena (EIA), held on 23-24 May 2018 in Manila at the largest energy event in the Philippines, the Power & Electricity World Philippines 2018 (PEWP), was a huge success in many ways.

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In line with the main themes of innovation and disruption for the 2018 PEWP, the EIA was designed as a pitching competition for startups focused around 4 major topics:

  1. Digital applications
  2. Decentralised and off-grid systems
  3. Clean energy (renewables and energy efficiency)
  4. New frontier technologies (Artificial Intelligence [AI], Internet of Things [IoT], blockchain etc.)

Selected startups would be matched with suitable mentors who were experienced industry professionals and undergo mentoring over a period of 1 month to sharpen their business models and polish their presentations and pitches. Enrupt publicised the EIA to its global database of startups, promoted the competition at energy events all around Singapore and contacted co-working spaces, including more than 10 from the Philippines, to spread the word. In the end, 18 startups made the cut, 5 from the Philippines and some based in geographical locations as far away as Europe, South America, and the USA.

The mentors added value to the startups in many ways, most important of which was access to their wide networks for further business support and development opportunities, and their sharing of their vast experience in diverse fields ranging from regulations to business model validation to market penetration. As a testament to the quality of the mentors and matching of mentors to startups done by Enrupt, the startups on average gave a score of 4.5/5 when asked to rate the relevance of the mentors to their specific needs.

Day 1 - Pitching

The pitching session itself was held on the first day of the event, with 10 minutes for presentation and 5 minutes for Q&A with the panel of 4 judges:

  • Katarina Uherova Hasbani, Founder of Enrupt, 
  • Vijay Sirse, CEO of Red Dot Power,
  • Marlon Apanada, Head of Allotrope Partners, Philippines, and 
  • Jan Stempien, Consultant of The Lantau Group. 

Every major topic of energy sector transformation was covered, which included:

  • Renewables
  • Energy efficiency
  • Microgrids
  • Off-grid solutions
  • AI
  • IoT
  • Blockchain
  • lDigital platforms

The startups also offered solutions for electric vehicles, energy storage and crowdfunding. In many cases, multiple technologies were integrated into a single product, which was a fantastic learning experience in energy innovation for the audience. 

  • The following metrics were used to evaluate the startups:
  • Importance of the addressed problem
  • Relevance of solution to major topics highlighted
  • Innovativeness
  • Disruptiveness, feasibility, and scalability
  • Overall impression of pitch

A brief summary of the top 3 startups is given below. Not surprisingly, all of the 3 winners work in solar PV, a major sector of emerging renewable energy market in Philippines.

1. Winner: Advanced Vision Analytics (AVA) Asia

AVA Asia provides operations & maintenance support to the solar industry. Through the use of drones and AI technology, AVA Asia detects defects too small to be seen by the human eye and helps solar farms improve power generation by 1-2% and reduces time spent on manual inspection of solar panels.

Ava Asia’s strength is the integration of multiple frontier technologies packaged in the affordable solution to a costly pain point faced by the solar industry: Detection of defects in solar panels. Microscopic defects can cause significant reductions in solar power generation capacity. With the razor thin margins faced by power generators, even a 1% increase in gross power generation translates to a huge increase in profitability. AVA Asia already has overseas clients such as in Indonesia.

2. 1st Runner Up: Solarite Technologies

Solarite uses a vacuum to keep its low concentrating photovoltaic solar panels cool which increases conversion efficiency and lengthens the lifespan of the panels. In addition, for the same power production, systems using Solarite panels are 30% cheaper and take up 30% less space than systems using conventional Solar panels.

The main bottleneck in solar energy penetration in small countries like Singapore is the lack of land area to install solar panels. Dedicated land area for solar farms is extremely costly (both in monetary terms and land development opportunity cost terms) in Singapore and there are only so many rooftops and reservoirs you can install solar cells on before you hit the maximum capacity. The 2014 white paper by the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore on the topic of renewable energy projects that if 100% of the usable land area (65 km2) in Singapore were covered with conventional solar panels, the total solar power generation would only be 6 GWp which is < 20% of current electricity consumption. The significant benefits which Solarite offers in terms of addressing land constraints and cost guaranteed their place in the top 3. Solarite was ranked lower than AVA Asia as they have not yet completed any installations (their first Solarite panel solar farm will be commissioned in Singapore only 4Q2018.

3. 2nd Runner Up: SolarNRG

SolarNRG is an online platform which leverages blockchain technology for solar farm investments. Investors buy SNRG tokens which are used to fund solar farm projects. When the solar farm is commissioned and begins generating revenue, the investors will get dividends. SolarNRG allows investors from anywhere in the world to invest in solar assets without restrictions and for solar project owners to raise funds without giving up any shareholder control.

Renewable energy projects face difficulty in obtaining affordable finance and SolarNRG will have a huge impact on renewables adoption if their business model works as intended. Ultimately, they were ranked lower than the top 2 because their platform is not yet live and they need to address regulatory hurdles.

Day 2 - Workshops & Roundtable

The second day of the event featured a series of presentations organised by Enrupt. Speakers covered topics of interest to the startups such as how to work within the regulatory environment, how to overcome common hurdles faced by startups and a Q&A with an investor.

Vijay Sirse, CEO of Red Dot Power shared his own entrepreneurial journey of creating a Singapore based privately owned utility.

Conclusion

In all, everyone involved in the EIA - startups, mentors, judges, audience, and Terrapinn, who organises the PEWP, came away satisfied with the high quality of the pitches and the smooth running of the event. The biggest winner was the startups who went home with a bounty of business development leads to follow up on. The organiser of PEWP, Terrapinn, declared the EIA a success and right after the event, requested Enrupt to run the EIA for PEWP 2019 as a partner.

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Katarina Hasbani