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Sparking up some serious collaboration

How to match an almost 200-year-old corporation with start-ups? Just ask Wärtsilä. Their new venture model aims to accelerate fresh ideas and form long-lasting relationships.

Text: Lotta Heikkeri Photo: Wärtsilä

“You cannot shy away from the future. We must roll up our sleeves, embrace it boldly and grow with it.”

This is the attitude that Alid Dettke, recently appointed as Vice President, Digital Innovation, says will bring Wärtsilä into a more innovative and collaborative future.

Crucial to this strategy, is thinking outside the box and partnering with the right people. And Wärtsilä plans to achieve this through its new corporate venture approach, a five-stage model that aims to speed up collaboration with different partners including start-ups and universities.

“I believe this will help bring in new and fresh ways of thinking to help us with our work,” explains Dettke as she compares the model to forming a relationship, where you get to know someone better and then progress into something more serious. “We in Wärtsilä are looking for a special someone,” she emphasizes.

The start-up approach

One of the key activities through which Wärtsilä is spreading the word about the new venture model is by launching it in different forums, as seen with the launch of the SparkUp Challenge, at the start-up event Slush towards the end of November.

“Once we identify promising start-ups with really innovative ideas, we will partner with them under this corporate venturing model, provide mentorship, finance and in the future, even partnership opportunities,” Dettke explains.

The first phase of the challenge focuses on Wärtsilä’s recently launched Smart Marine Vision. With the challenge, Wärtsilä seeks innovative start-ups to develop ideas for the smart shipping value chain in its Digital Acceleration Centres. The DACs, first launched in Helsinki and Singapore, are hubs where projects are developed at unprecedented speeds, often in collaboration with start-ups and other partners.

And the SparkUp Challenge is not about tying up with start-ups because it’s fashionable, cautions Dettke, “but a sound strategy to build an effective and fruitful long-term partnership. This is an amazing opportunity to co-create with us, and really accelerate the development of innovative digital services. For up to six months, we will provide the winning teams space and exposure our experts’ advice. The winners will also get a capital grant of 50,000 euros.”

New ways of working

This will help Wärtsilä as energy and marine sectors are going through a digital transformation, with the old ways of doing business changing. According to Marco Ryan, Chief Digital Officer for Wärtsilä, this means a shift to become an “as-a-service” smart technology company.

“We at Wärtsilä are renowned for spotting trends and innovation. But the innovation tends to happen around products. One of our main challenges is to work more collaboratively,” he says. Reflecting this shift in the mind-set, Wärtsilä introduced Slush visitors to George Newstein, an eccentric character who is reluctant to share his brilliant ideas with the world.

This is where teaming up with start-ups plays an important role, with large companies like Wärtsilä benefitting from the agile and collaborative way of working that start-ups are famous for.

“There are aspects that are very powerful, like the strong focus on service design, on innovating at pace and focusing on customer needs. This is how we work in our accelerators,” explains Ryan.

The best results will happen, he says, when data scientists, business people and engineers sit together and work collaboratively towards a common goal.

The application for start-ups to submit new ideas under the SparkUp challenge is open until the end of January 2018. The second phase focusing on Smart Energy begins in the summer of 2018.

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The five stages of venturing

Wärtsilä’s venturing model consists of five levels.

In the first phase, Wärtsilä invests into existing accelerator and incubator programmes in the marine and energy sectors.

The second phase is about co-operation and includes the SparkUp Challenge for start-ups. The winners of the challenge are invited to co-create their ideas with Wärtsilä.

The third stage is about forming strategic partnerships with start-ups and other small companies.

And in the fourth stage, joint venture opportunities are explored with these partners.

Finally, the fifth stage of the collaboration will be all about acquisition.

Watch the Video: Wärtsilä Sparkup Challenge introduced by Alid Dettke & Andrea Morgante

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