- Lisa Lambert is the Chief Technology & Innovation Officer reporting to the CEO of National Grid. She is also the Founder & President of National Grid Partners.
- National Grid Partners is the utility industry’s first Silicon Valley-based VC & innovation firm. The organisation connects National Grid to the technology, entrepreneurial and venture capital communities to address key trends within the energy industry.
- Its functions are leading innovation, incubation, corporate venture capital, business development, and culture acceleration for the company.
How was National Grid Partners founded?
I joined National Grid in January 2018. I was brought in to build an investing and innovation organisation. We expanded that mandate to include culture accelerations and partnerships to our business development function. The goal was to help National Grid get ahead the curve, and ‘future-proof the business’ as our CEO likes to say. In light of what was happening in other industries, where they were being massively disrupted by innovative technology companies that were emerging, he wanted to get ahead of that and be proactive. This is to the degree that we can partner with some of those firms instead of being disrupted by them, perhaps incorporate some of their methods and even potentially acquire them. He viewed that as a better alternative than what he’d seen in other sectors such as, Airbnb disrupting the hospitality industry and Netflix disrupting Media.
What does National Grid Partners do?
Firstly, our innovation function is our new business creation organisation. This is the group that is responsible for working with the regulated and non-regulated business on new innovative ideas. These are coming from inside of National grid – think of it as our own startup mechanism. We’re creating our own capabilities and then rolling those into our regulated and non-regulated businesses.
Our incubation function is our seed-stage investment vehicle. We invest in very early-stage companies and then bring them into our SanFrancisco office, which I opened up when I joined, to accelerate their growth. That includes sitting on the boards, being an extension of the operating team and helping them navigate National Grid.
The third function is our corporate venture capital group. This organisation does expansion stage investing, series B and beyond. These are companies that have gotten market traction and are in the process of scaling up. Our corporate venture capital group spends a lot of time helping with that acceleration and then making sure that we’re capturing the value from those companies internally. They work with our business development team to make sure that these companies, that are mature and more likely to be deployed within National Grid, get the visibility that they need.
Our business development function is our partnering reorganisation. Their mandate is two-fold. Firstly, making sure that we get traction across our portfolio in the business, but also externally making sure they’re creating opportunities for our collective set of assets. We’ve informally launched our organisation called Next Grid Alliance which is an alliance of utilities across the globe. There are 140 utilities around the world, and our goal is to bring them together to help address problems facing the sector. Whether it’s, How do you green gas? or how do you electrify cities? Or how do you leverage an on-board technology in a traditional baseload for utility? Those are some of the problems that we are all facing. In the utility sector, we don’t compete in market with each other. There is only one utility in every market so we and collaborate and share ideas to get ahead of the curve.
What does culture acceleration mean?
One of the things that was important to me upon joining is being able to help affect the culture of National Grid. I call it bringing the outside in. We’re bringing the entrepreneurial, lean startup, agile method into the company to make it more entrepreneurial. Culture acceleration is all about that. We have launched many programmes since the inception of National Grid Partners, but we continue to add to the list. For example, our Venture Fellows programme where we bring in National Grid employees to do between a nine-month and two-year rotation within National Grid Partners to learn about how we work with startups. Bringing in that entrepreneurial mindset and exposure to different business models is enlightening.
What is the firm’s focus when choosing to invest in early-stage companies?
We have a dual mandate when it comes to investing. Our ultimate goal is to deliver strategic value to the business but also make financial return. One of the other requirements of me coming in was making sure that we can get that strategic value out of investments. It’s important that investors take risks and find really good opportunities. We also look out into the future, a three to five-year time-frame, to anticipate what will be the next disruption.
What are National Grid Partners’ plans for 2020?
One of our common practices, when investing, is to bundle them to make a big announcement at our events. Typically we have an annual networking reception in one of our jurisdictions which include entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and thought-leaders in some of the energy and IT sectors. We were planning to do an event this June in London, that’s been pushed out to October, and we will be doing an event next year in New York. We like to announce the investments that we’ve made at these events because it creates more momentum.