Posted by: Heli Antila
I had the honour of participating in a trip to Silicon Valley with Fortum Innovation Challenge winners Beichen, Liza and Gergely and their mentors. Fortum Innovation Challenge is an open innovation competition that Fortum organized last winter. Beichen Chen, Liza Staravoitava and Gergely Horvath elaborated on their winning ideas over the summer at Fortum’s premises in Stockholm and Espoo. Now it was time for the final prize – an innovation trip to Silicon Valley.
We ourselves also “walked the talk” of new technology. This meant using Uber cars and AirBnB accommodations for the first time in my life. We rented a house with an amazing view in the neighbourhood where Steve Jobs lived. Our hosts were extremely friendly, bringing us pizza on the first evening when we arrived tired from the flight and driving us the next morning to our first meetings in San Francisco. We used Uber cars several times. Mostly, the experiences were very good; we got to hear a lot of different kinds of stories – from jokes told by an originally British driver to a gentleman from Belarus, who was so delighted that one of our winners was also from Belarus. Almost always, the Uber wait time was less than 10 minutes and the drivers navigated to our destination with no problems.
During our stay, we met several energy sector players – from battery technology startups to established customer engagement companies. The clock speed is fast in Silicon Valley: since booking the meetings a few months back, one startup had raised USD 20M in capital and had doubled its size, whereas another startup had already stopped operating, due to lack of financing. So, if large companies like us want to cooperate with startups, we have to expedite all our internal processes for cooperation. I was also proud of the ability of our student winners to contribute in the meetings with well-defined questions and conclusions.
The highlight of the trip was a visit to the Tesla factory in Fremont. The tour proceeded on small trains like those at Universal Studios, starting from battery cells and wires and ending at the finished cars. The factory was originally owned by GM and later by Toyota. For a while, it seemed that there would be no future for the electric car industry in the USA, but Elon Musk showed otherwise. With a vision of a better world with electric vehicles, he has developed a high-end consumer product and the factory is in operation again. Tesla has a proud and committed team. Elon Musk has even named each robot. One sign of Tesla’s mindset is a story about one of world’s biggest robots that they bought second-hand from the other side of the US. They got an offer from another company to move the robot to Tesla’s factory in one year. Musk did not accept the offer, and Tesla personnel did the same job in four months. And of course I had to buy some Tesla souvenirs; the coolest one is the baby body with the text, “It’s all electric, baby.”
Tired, sitting on the plane on my way back home, I opened the October issue of Norwegian’s customer magazine and found a story about Fortum’s HorsePower concept. Not only did it make my day, it added to my feeling that young, innovative minds and a willingness to try new ideas is what will move this world towards a brighter future.
Once more, congratulations to our student winners. Remember, “Silicon Valley is a mindset, not a place.”
Chief Technology Officer
P.S. Our next competition, where we look for innovative consumer products for our customers, is directed to startup companies. The competition is still open to applicants. The winner will be announced at the Slush startup event in November in Helsinki.