Driving innovation is one of the main priorities of every leader. Yet, it’s not so easy doing it in a very competitive market or in a conservative industry. One of the most effective ways to build an innovative company is to build a corporate venture arm. That’s, for example, what Shell did back in 1998. For episode 046 of “The World Class Leaders Show”, I invited Andrea Course, Venture Principal of Shell Ventures, to share her experience with innovation, startups, founders, and CEOs. Andrea has 15 years of experience in the energy sector. Prior to joining Shell, Andrea worked as Venture Principal at Schlumberger Technology Investments. In addition, she is a speaker and gender equality advocate who supports minority-owned startups as founder and managing partner for Course Investments. She holds a degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Central Oklahoma, a Master of Science from the University of Oklahoma in Aerospace Engineering, and an executive MBA from the University of Houston. Shell Ventures invest in mainly three verticals: 1) Resources and Environment, which covers decarbonization 2) Power and heat, like wind and solar energy storage, energy grid management 3) Mobility, which covers the mobility systems of the future
How to choose the right companies to invest inIn Andrea’s experience, it comes down to three key criteria:
- The company needs to have something unique like a technology protected against others that may want to copy. It could be a trade secret or something protected by IP
- The company must solve a problem, and not have a technology in search of a problem. If they’re not solving a problem, the technology is just a “nice to have”
- The company must have a strong team. As a founder/CEO, you need to be surrounded by people who are smarter and know more than you do.
The power of diversity in the startup worldA diverse team is crucial for the success of the company. Diverse members can bring a different set of skills, experiences, perspectives as well as personalities. It’s the power of cross-pollination. However, the VC industry (not just the energy industry) is still facing a huge lack of diversity in terms of gender, age, race, and background. Gender is still the most pressing issue in the investment world. If we look at the numbers from 2021, the amount of money that went to female investors is less than 2% out of all the capital that was invested. The absence of diversity prevents companies from making better decisions because you don’t have diverse voices in the room.
What makes great founders and CEOs
- Their ability to pivot and turn the company into something completely different
- They need to be resilient, able to put in the hard work and execute in very extreme conditions.
- They’ve launched other companies before. Even if their previous company failed, they’ve learned massive experience that can be used for their new startup. This also shows their persistence and dedication to succeed.
- They need to have a lot of optimism and confidence