21 October 2010

Veolia Trying to Accelerate Cleantech Solutions

Philippe Martin of Veolia Environnement
I sat down last week with Philippe Martin and Robert Bozza of Veolia (NYSE:VE) at the Cleantech Forum New York last week to learn more about the company's Innovation Accelerator.

Veolia Environnement is a multinational French company with origins in the national water company established by Napoleon III.

You may remember them as part of Vivendi, from which they spun off in 2000, later being renamed Veolia.

Veolia operates utility and public transportation businesses -- everything from drinking water to waste management services; from heating and air conditioning to rail and road passenger transportation systems.

The company had $49.8 billion in revenue last year and operates in 74 countries with 313,000 employees worldwide.
Philippe Martin, senior vice president for research and innovation, explains that the company faces environmental challenges in the field every day and needs the most relevant and innovative technologies. They are constantly searching for new innovations from within and, now, with its innovation accelerator, outside the company.

"We have the ability as an operating company to deploy technology and help companies scale their technology and get to market," Martin says. "We are focused on incubation and acceleration."

Robert Bozza heads up the Veolia Innovation Accelerator (VIA). The accelerator funnels creative solutions into a network of sorts to which Veolia will lend its expertise and deployment capabilities.

And the company promises to move innovation quickly through the incubation period – to accelerate the technologies to market.

"We have made a 1-4-12 promise," Martin and Bozza explain. "Review a company's application in one week. Perform technical analysis of the technology in four weeks. And sign an agreement with the company within 12 weeks. It is designed to move fast and be more efficient than a corporate fund."

While not a fund, VIA can invest in a participating company's technology. "We think this is more efficient than a fund," says Martin. "We are not in the business of creating solutions, only deploying the best."

Thus far, they have 150 applicants under review, each falling within one scope of the company's focus areas: water, waste, and energy. Some have come through traditional routes, such as through venture capital or other investors, but they are also finding great response to the accelerator's web application.

"We're seeing about 50/50 from investors and the web," Martin explains. "Before there were too many channels into the company. Now there is one funnel."

And the companies are coming from both sides of the pond.

One such company is California-based NanoH2O, which provides membranes that leverage nanotechnology to improve desalination. NanoH2O is partnering with Veolia Water Solutions & Technologies to jointly explore new regions for seawater desalination plants in the Middle East, Mediterranean, and Australia.

"Working with Veolia," said Jeff Green, founder and CEO of NanoH2O, "will accelerate the adoption of NanoH2O's nanocomposite reverse osmosis membranes worldwide to change the fundamental economics of desalination."

Once selected, companies can enter into joint research projects with Veolia or its subsidiaries (such as with NanoH2O) or use the company to deploy their technology in the field.

And what about intellectual property?

"While there may be some shared IP in joint research projects, it is otherwise IP retained by company/entrepreneur," Martin asserted. "We are not a technology company, so we are not going to be a competitor."

"New technology leverages our strengths," added Bozza.

Currently, Veolia is looking for companies with an emphasis on biotech applied to their core businesses (water, waste, energy, transport), sensors – which are going to be very important, energy conservation and efficiency; and real-time water quality monitoring solutions.

The companies selected will be announced at the Cleantech Group's San Francisco Forum next March.

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