ESB has signed a five-year deal for a new incubator programme for its employees that allows them to propose new business ideas that can be put into practice.
The new initiative aims to get teams within ESB thinking like start-ups by inviting them to come up with new sustainable business ideas in areas such as transport, infrastructure and stimulating a hydrogen economy.
A pilot programme run at Dublin's Dogpatch Labs has seen a number of projects greenlighted for further investigation. One example being put into testing is a plan to use images captured by drones and other sources to inspect power lines in remote areas.
"New technologies are disrupting the industry, creating opportunities for a much healthier, efficient and more sustainable future, but also presenting challenges and uncertainty. It's important for ESB to remain flexible and adaptive as new technologies and business models emerge," said Geraldine Moloney, head of new business incubation at ESB.
“Our ambition is to be a leader in the transition to a low-carbon world, powered by clean electricity.”
She declined to put a cost on the incubator but said it was a “sizeable investment” being made by the semi-state, which earlier this year also announced plans to turn the Moneypoint power station into a renewable energy hub.
Ms Moloney said staff were enthusiastic about the accelerator, with about 90 ideas submitted to the pilot programme last year.
“There is a lot of entrepreneurial talent within ESB that we wanted to tap into. The programme with Dogpatch Labs has proven what staff are capable of achieving when they’re given the time, tools, perspective and support to focus on new, impactful solutions,” she said.
Dogpatch Labs, which is situated in Dublin's Docklands, has run incubator programmes for, among others, animal nutrition group Alltech, reinsurance company Hannover Re, and the NatWest Group. It is one of 50 hubs selected worldwide as a member of the Google-for-Startups network.
Recently it was awarded the multimillion euro NDRC contract to deliver a national start-up accelerator programme on behalf of the State.
Its chief executive Patrick Walsh dismissed suggestions the ESB might be engaging in "innovation theatre".
“ESB has really committed to this and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite like this in terms of intrapreneurship, particularly in terms of the length of commitment and the scale of the programme. It certainly isn’t just a ticking the box exercise,” he said.
“Sometimes you see initiatives being set up within companies, but in those scenarios people aren’t really leaving the mothership. Trying to bring about change isn’t easy when you’re sitting in the exact same environment, so by going outside to somewhere different and mixing with entrepreneurs can be more inductive to coming up with great new ideas,” Mr Walsh added.