Oliver Wick, who works in BMW’s Munich office, has a rather unusual job title of Technology Scout. He is responsible for scanning the exciting world of emerging technologies, and assessing which ones have the potential to improve or innovate, in his case, BMW’s business model.
He is not alone in the company or in the world to do this. The automotive company has technology offices spread out across the world, where experts like Wick are tasked with identifying relevant innovations and generating trend reports for use cases ranging from car production to smart city services.
In BMW’s case, these scout teams are equipped with a Tech Radar, custom-built software that collects and analyzes data from R&D, patents, markets, venturing, and other sources, to gauge emerging technologies of interest and of their level of maturity.
Once a promising innovation has been identified, technology scouts are expected to network with startups and universities working in the field and to come up with proof of concepts.
BMW went one step further by also creating a Startup Garage to encourage smaller companies with a good idea to submit their pitch, with the promise of a contract with the automotive company for those selected.
Another example is energy manufacturer Enel, which currently boasts ‘Innovation Hubs’ in 10 cities across the world, all designed to discover startups and small organizations whose technology could eventually serve Enel’s own business interests.
Form Energy, for instance, is a startup that is developing low-cost and long-duration batteries that can be combined with renewable energy sources and found in Enel an interested party to actively invest in the startup and provide it with guidance to grow its product.
What ROI is expected from this? A recent study carried out by the Harvard Business Review analyzed data from a multinational oil company to assess whether the firm’s efforts in R&D had paid off. After reviewing 7,000 drilling projects, examining the career history of over 30,000 engineers, and holding interviews with managers and executives, the researchers found that the company had spent billions of dollars on R&D every year and generated almost 10,000 patents. This led to drilling costs falling by 15%, saving an average $90 million per year per subsidiary.
The Tech tracker
JLL, a global real estate services firm, recently announced the outcome of an educational workshop with The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) culminating in the launch of the university’s revolutionary online web tool called the Tech Tracker.
The MIT Tech Tracker scouts, analyzes, and predicts the future of technology within the built environment. The industry-first platform provides unparalleled insight into technologies that have the potential to make the biggest impact on the development, management, and configuring of property and space.
The Tech Tracker replaces gut feelings about what’s hot with actual data and machine-learning algorithms. From augmented reality to 5G, and on to flying cars, plastics made from algae, Martian concrete, and more, the Tech Tracker has thousands of profiles for users to track what’s keeping pace, cooling down, and on the rise.
The Tech Tracker’s top 10 techs identified as of September 2021 are:
- Virtual Reality
- Internet of Things (IoT)
- Augmented Reality
- Connected Home
- Aramid Fibers
- Carbon Nanotube
Energy tech scouts
Increasing urgency to address climate change is driving more money than ever into climate-related technologies. Global investments in the energy transition grew to $500 billion in 2020, up 9% year on year, even in the face of the pandemic.
For companies looking to invest, they need effective tech scouts to find the right investments, which with the right support can be commercialized and deployed at scale.
More than 1,200 climate tech startups have launched since 2013, according to PwC. But successfully commercializing new climate technologies takes more than a sophisticated new concept and promising engineering. It also demands well-placed partners with deep expertise and strong connections in the right parts of the industry.
Conferences can be rich scouting environments as many startups see such events as perfect opportunities to present their solutions while partnering with accelerators is another way to meet and interact with early-stage start-ups.
Experienced leadership and a strong management team vastly increase the likelihood that a startup will be successful in developing and scaling its innovative technology.
The synergies between startups and teams scouting for them create better solutions faster than either organization could develop on its own.