The challenge of innovation for big corporations: Enel, a case study

The challenge of innovation for big corporations: Enel, a case study


“Enel has been a real trailblazer through its Open Innovability® concept”: these were the words with which Alberto Di Minin, Associate Professor at the Management Institute of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, opened the discussion “The Challenge of Innovation for the Big Corporations: Enel, a Case Study”, organised by The European House-Ambrosetti at the Villa Lazzaroni in Rome. At the heart of the event was the Enel case study presented by our Group’s Chief Innovability® Officer, Ernesto Ciorra, who was invited to talk about our Open Innovation approach and the success stories to emerge from its application in the real world. 

The meeting, which was the first event of the year for the Ambrosetti Club InnoTech community, was attended by some of our Group’s leading partners, including Nissan, EPS and Athonet. The final contribution to the round table came from Christopher Tucci, Professor of Management of Technology and Corporate Strategy & Innovation at L’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, who illustrated the innovation strategies available to companies with a particular focus on the subject of crowdsourcing.

Ciorra explained that Open Innovation and digitalisation are now the cornerstones of our Group’s industrial strategy in which innovation and sustainability are now considered an essential pairing and have given rise to the term ‘Innovability®’. Enel has no less than 232 active innovation projects in addition to 25 Global Innovation Partnerships created as part of an ecosystem of 7 Innovation Hubs located in in Israel, Brazil, Chile, Spain, Italy, Russia and the USA. Enel has focused not only on building partnerships with large corporations, such as Nissan, but also mutually beneficial working relationships with outstanding SMEs like Electro Power Systems and farsighted startups such as Athonet


“The idea behind Open Innovation is to find problems to solve and then to tackle these by connecting all areas of the company with startups, industrial partners, SMEs, research centres, universities and crowdsourcing”

– Ernesto Ciorra, Enel’s Chief Innovability® Officer

Our Group has embarked upon a process aimed at selecting the best startups with which to launch projects that will create a genuine network of skills, ideas and business opportunities. In the case of Athonet, CEO Karim El Malki spoke about the importance of the partnership, highlighting how a company like Enel can offer a small partner access to the market as well as valuable feedback, even when that feedback is negative.


“Getting a well-reasoned ‘no’ means you can discuss change. This motivates startups to come back with a new proposal that will actually be successful”

– Karim El Malki, CEO Athonet

Ciorra’s presentation of the success stories continued with the case of Electro Power Systems, an Italian SME working in the sector of microgrids, energy storage and long-term hydrogen fuel cell storage systems. Carlalberto Guglielminotti, the CEO of Electro Power Systems, retraced the steps of the company from its origins as a nascent idea at the Turin and Milan Polytechnics to become a listed company today, dwelling at length on the pivotal meeting with Enel. Our Group, in fact, broke new ground with its work identifying and believing in EPS, and then creating a three-way arrangement with Intesa Sanpaolo, with which we have established a partnership to promote Italian SMEs. This has allowed EPS to get the financing it required to go the extra mile in developing the technology.

Guglielminotti also emphasised the revolutionary and extraordinary nature of the zero emissions microgrid project that Enel and EPS created together in Chile in 2017. 


“The big corporations need to open up in order to innovate because they are often trapped within their own prevailing rules. Open Innovation allows us to ‘cross-contaminate’ with realities that are free from our constraints, to develop sustainable and competitive solutions”

– Ernesto Ciorra, Chief Innovability® Officer Enel

The work of the round table continued with another successful case study: the partnership between Enel and Nissan. This story was outlined by Nissan Italia CEO Bruno Mattucci and provided a brilliant example of how two large companies managed to innovate together, developing new solutions for sustainable, integrated mobility through the Vehicle-to-Grid (V2G) technology. V2G is revolutionising the whole e-car concept by turning vehicles into mobile batteries capable of feeding power back to the electricity grid, improving the efficiency of both consumption and the management of energy flows.


“In order to innovate, you need to be brave enough to take risks and even to turn away from projects that might seem to offer the safest route. When we unveiled the first mass market electric car, the LEAF, many years ago, the CEOs of the big car manufacturers told us that we’d go out of business. But today there is not a single one of them that is not investing in electrifying its range”

– Bruno Mattucci, CEO Nissan Italia

The event was concluded by Professor Christopher Tucci who pinpointed three keys to creating innovation: collaboration with startups, innovation communities and crowdsourcing. The professor dedicated part of his address to the Enel Innovation Hubs and events like the Data Hackathons, which develop the creative pooling of out-of-the box ideas.


“The Enel Innovation Hubs around the world provide a global opportunity to spot innovation where it is actually taking shape”

– Christopher Tucci, Professor - Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

Opening up, looking outside the box and cross-contamination: as Mr Di Minin said in his summing up, “if you want to work to the benefit of the ecosystem, you need to give up the ego-system!”