Today, global energy corporation Equinor and startup Crux OCM are working together to test Crux OCM’s software, which functions as an “autopilot” for oil and gas control room operators. It’s early days yet, but if the Crux OCM solution works and scales, it will lead to efficiencies, cost savings, and new revenue opportunities for Equinor.
This sounds like a pipe dream: a startup and a large corporation partnering to give the startup a first user to test their idea and the corporation the kind of solution that would have taken years to develop internally.
In reality, this kind of partnership can be a rapid win-win, but only if approached the right way. Startups and large corporations think and work incredibly differently—and too often, great ideas get lost in translation. The first hurdle is identifying startup founders with deep domain knowledge who are at the top of their game.
Identifying the Stellar Startups
“We did not really know what we were getting into,” said Jens Festervoll, corporate liaison for the Techstars Energy Accelerator in Partnership with Equinor. “Equinor is a global energy company and wanted to partner with an accelerator company that had a reach into global startup ecosystems and a reputation for attracting top talent.” They were hoping to identify and work with truly stellar startups with products or solutions that could make a real difference to Equinor, and to inject a dose of startup culture into the company—but they also knew that working with startups would bring special challenges for a large corporation like Equinor. And so an accelerator was born.
From the moment she heard about the Techstars Energy Accelerator in Partnership with Equinor, Crux OCM founder Vicki Knott knew she wanted in. “The same day applications opened, the founder of Crux OCM hunted me down,” said Audun Abelsnes, managing director of the program. “Vicki’s real obsession for a niche problem like increasing the volumetric throughput of pipelines appealed to me. Techstars backs exceptional founders, and I immediately felt there was something special about Vicki.” Crux OCM indeed proved to be an exceptional startup, with a great team that was ready to #domorefaster.
The Startup Culture Injection
But Vicki did have some hesitations: “We were worried that the experience would be the same as all of our interactions with large corporations up to that point—that progress would be so slow we would not be able to determine and secure a trial opportunity within the three months of the accelerator.”
It’s true that corporations and startups work at different speeds, and this can cause friction. “The speed and sense of urgency is just totally different between a energy major like Equinor and any startup,” said Audun. Fortunately, Audun is also positioned to help ease this tension. “I have unique access to senior management in Equinor that can help and push the needle forward if necessary.” He gave Equinor the tools and methodologies to build trust with the startups in the program, creating strong channels of communication and overcoming cultural barriers.
For Equinor’s part, Jens reflected that he and his colleagues “appreciated the speed at which these startups expect things to happen, and the fact that we do not work that quickly.” But the Equinor people who mentored the startups in this program—giving their time and attention on a regular basis, week after week—found that they were changed by the experience. Nearly 80% of these mentors said that they would work differently in the future, with more agility. That taste of startup culture let them see ways to bring elements of it into their working lives, making them both more efficient and more engaged.
“We need this cultural change,” said Jens.
The Measurable Power of Mentorship
Techstars not only brought startup speed to Equinor—mentors also got first hand experience with the Techstars value Give First. This means helping others whenever possible, without expectation of a transactional return. It is the essence of mentoring. “The Equinor staff was so welcoming and open to the Techstars companies,” Vicki said. “All individuals in the organization did their very best to help us and fully embraced the Techstars #GiveFirst mantra.”
Going into the program, Crux OCM saw their technology as a solution for oil pipelines. Equinor mentors like Jofrid Klokkehaug, VP of operations and maintenance, and Ulrik Olbjørn, the digital lead for Equinor onshore, helped Vicki realize that she could expand this vision. The software was just as applicable to the 5000 miles (8000 km) of integrated gas pipelines and facilities on the Norwegian continental shelf. Thanks to this insight, Crux OCM had a great new market to attack—and Equnior had a potential solution to a problem.
That’s the beauty of Give First—you always do get something back. You just don’t know what or when it will be. In this case, the benefits for Equnior came quickly: “Crux OCM will test their solution on a small Unit at our Snøhvit LNG facility as a first user,” said Jens. “If the tech works, then there is an opportunity to scale to more complex systems, adding more value.”
A Win-Win Times Six
With this accelerator, the company was looking to “improve Equinor’s ability to innovate and drive change,” said Jens. Less than a year after the first class of the program, Equinor is seeing gratifying results.
They’ve experienced the high quality of Techstars startups, overcome cultural barriers that made trust and communication difficult, and infused some of that energizing startup culture into their corporate culture—and these are just the intangible successes. Crux OCM is one of six startups from the program that are exploring potential solutions with Equinor. That’s a win-win times six—and a very measurable, and speedy, path to creating value.
In a January 2019 Forbes article, I mentioned that “Energy is one of the biggest investment opportunities on the planet today, but it is also hard to break into the massive global energy companies for a startup.” It is the breaking into of these massive companies that we focus hard on in Techstars Energy in Partnership with Equinor. It’s fair to say it worked well for our 2018 class—and now we’re looking for a second class to do it again!
The inaugural 2018 class of Techstars Energy in Partnership with Equinor represented a broad range of technologies: from electrical airplanes and conversion of C02, all the way to smart cement and nanofluidic platforms for increased recovery of oil, to SaaS platforms developing large scale solar plants, and much more. In the end, we had applicants from 38 countries, we set up 1,150 individual mentor-meetings between the 10 companies and our 120+ mentors, and most importantly, more than half of our companies announced on Demo Day that they were moving forward in working with our corporate partners at Equinor and Kongsberg. In all, it was a very busy, but very rewarding three months!
I track this success back to the fact that we select outstanding teams to be part of Techstars Energy. More than 50% of the companies were already above 10 employees upon acceptance to the program, and several had raised over $1M before joining us. Our two corporate partners, Equinor and Kongsberg, were also key to these great results. One of the big benefits that this program offers founders is unprecedented access into the highest levels of these organizations. They are here to help Techstars entrepreneurs navigate the global energy space—and they do so with great insight and energy (no pun intended).
With applications open for the 2019 class, my expectations are high. The pressure is on to deliver an even better result this year. (I am a founder myself and I love the pressure and hustle, don’t you?)
Solving Global Energy Problems
All that said, we are thrilled to announce that applications are now open for year two of Techstars Energy in Partnership with Equinor!
This year, we are excited to work with companies building tech enabled businesses, software, or hardware: we want companies focused on solving global energy problems with global potential.
We will continue to have a broad energy scope in focus. Companies working with renewables, oil & gas, digitalization, and new business models are encouraged to apply. Ultimately, we want to work with great entrepreneurs from diverse backgrounds that are working on world-changing ideas. While not a complete list, here are our broad areas of focus for 2019 Techstars Energy in Partnership with Equinor:
Wind power, battery and storage solutions, distributed power, energy efficiency solutions…The list here is never ending.
Oil & Gas Technologies
This area is obvious for an energy major like Equinor. Getting hydrocarbons out of the ground more efficiently with less environmental impact is of natural interest.
The energy sector is fast becoming digital, and the areas of interest are as wide as this category’s name implies. Every enabling technology that makes an energy company more efficient and enables new ways of working is interesting.
New Business Models
Surprise us, and show us your tech can help build energy platforms for the future.
Platforms as Enablers
Energy is a massive industry with massive investments and massive opportunities for the right company. There are a variety of platforms and areas that may not be energy specific but can be leveraged by an energy major like Equinor and Kongsberg. Examples include: Robotics, Financial modeling, Energy Trading, AI / ML applications, Predictive Modeling, Cyber security, Blockchain solutions, and Safety.
Join Us for 2019!
We want to create the energy platforms of the future. We’re looking to be blown away by unique concepts. If you have a great team and a big vision, we want to hear from you.
2019 Techstars Energy in Partnership with Equinor will start in beautiful Oslo, Norway on September 9, 2019. Right now, we are on a worldwide tour to meet founders who are solving real problems for the global energy sector. Applications close May 13, 2019, and we’ll be making our final selections in June. Be sure to watch this webinar to learn more about the program. You can also request office hours—one-on-one time with program staff to share details of what you’re working on and learn more about Techstars Energy in Partnership with Equinor. Or, if you’re ready, start your application now.
We are thrilled to announce and welcome the first ten companies to Techstars Class 148, the Techstars Energy Accelerator in Partnership with Equinor. Techstars Energy will kick-off September 10th inside Equinor offices in Oslo with our Demo-day on December 5th.
Techstars Energy brings together four very strong networks, Equinor, Kongsberg, McKinsey and Techstars. Our one and only goal is to support and grow these ten incredible companies. Techstars is the worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed – their 1550 portfolio companies have raised over $5 billion in capital and 145 have had been acquired. Together, Equinor, Kongsberg, Mckinsey and Techstars create an unfair advantage for founders and give them the best chance for success.
In February 2018, I started a worldwide search that brought me to Singapore, New Delhi, Bangalore, Madrid, Copenhagen, Paris, London, NYC, Boston, San Francisco, New Orleans and Houston looking for world-class talent. I believe we found it. In addition to being selective, Techstars Energy is global and diverse. Entrepreneurs from Canada, UK, Spain, Denmark, Norway and the USA will spend three months inside Equinor’s stunning office in Oslo. They were selected from a strong global applicant pool focused around energy in a broad context.
I would like to thank our mentors, sponsors, partners and alumni for their generous support in this process. Special thanks to Equinor, Kongsberg and McKinsey for their true commitment to the success of Techstars Energy. Go team Techstars Energy!
Without further ado, here are the Techstars Energy companies: