What Can Walmart and Xcel Energy Teach Us About Moonshots?
What can we learn from Walmart, Xcel Energy and the humble electric motor?In retrospect, big economic or technological shifts are often obvious — but they’re not always obvious as they’re unfolding. This episode will focus on how big businesses respond to external challenges in real time.We’ll start with a glimpse at how the distributed electric motor catalyzed the second industrial revolution. Are we in the middle of an “electric-motor moment” for the modern economy?Then, we’ll reflect on Walmart’s groundbreaking push into sustainability back in 2005. What does it tell us about how to craft a purpose-driven business case?We’ll finish with a conversation about Xcel Energy’s goal to get 100% of its energy from zero-carbon resources by 2050. How do you push a “moonshot” goal through an executive team and a company with thousands of employees? And how will it influence other electric utilities to make bold moves?Guests featured in this episode:Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital EconomyRebecca Henderson, economist and professor at Harvard Business SchoolBrett Carter, executive vice president and chief customer and innovation officer at Xcel EnergyResources:Rebecca Henderson’s HBS case study on WalmartXcel’s report on its zero-emissions goalErik Brynjolfsson’s book: “Machine, Platform, Crowd”ILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, the leading provider of end-to-end customer-centric technology solutions dedicated solely to serving the energy ecosystem. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts. .
6 Jun 2019
What Do Edison’s 'Invention Factory' and Exelon Drones Have in Common?
Thomas Edison wasn’t just an inventor. He created a whole new way to make and sell his inventions — setting the stage for modern corporate innovation. His model influenced a generation of titans: General Electric, Westinghouse, Ford, and the electric utility as we know it today.And then, something shifted.In the 1970s, executives of large companies turned their attention to “shareholder value.” They valued efficiencies, cost cutting and dividends over invention and innovation. Today, when a startup with a few software engineers can present a competitive threat to a big incumbent in a very short period of time, this presents an existential challenge.We'll start this episode with a re-examination of Thomas Edison’s legacy. How did he set the stage for modern corporate innovation?Then, we’ll talk about the limits of that model. How can corporations shift from “big to bigger” mindsets into “new to big” strategies? We’ll talk about how to apply creativity and a venture capital mindset to utilities like Exelon.Guests featured in this episode:Leonard Degraaf, archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historical ParkChristina Wallace, vice president of growth at Bionic, and co-author of “New to Big”Resources:Leonard Degraaf’s book: “Edison and the Rise of Innovation”Christina Wallace’s book: “New to Big: How Companies Can Create Like Entrepreneurs, Invest Like VCs, and Install a Permanent Operating System for Growth”Bionic case study on Exelon’s drone businessILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, a software and analytics leader changing the way the world uses energy. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
6 Jun 2019
How Failed Green Jobs and Energy Poverty Shaped This Founder
In this episode, an entrepreneur who’s applying community organizing tactics and data crunching to clean energy in inner cities: Donnel Baird. Donnel is the CEO and Founder of Blocpower, a startup based in Brooklyn, New York. Blocpower helps inner-city buildings lease heat pumps, install new lighting systems, or invest in solar. And it has a piece of software to help microtarget the right buildings and make installations faster.Donnel grew up in a small apartment in Brooklyn, where he experienced energy poverty and was forced to think about how the environment directly impacts quality of life.“I think when you're poor you have to be aware of your environment and the kinds of adverse health impacts that can be caused by your environment. That's part of surviving as a poor person in America or any country. And I think that in my family we were, we were definitely super attuned to that,” explains Donnel.Later, he played a role in the green jobs push within the Obama Administration. It opened his eyes to the limitations of the green building sector.“The green buildings and energy efficiency industry is fundamentally broken. It has sales problems, it has mechanical engineering and energy efficiency audit problems. It has a huge financing problem, it has a construction and installation problem. It has an M&V problem, and if you pour $7 billion into that failed industry and hyper fragmented industry, we didn't get the results that we would've hoped,” he says.In this episode, we tell Donnel’s story of frustration, confusion and inspiration that led him to become a founder. Resources:Grist profile: Donnel Baird makes inner cities more efficientNation Swell: How to power a renewable energy startup
10 Dec 2019
What Do Google Glass, Segway and Thermostats Show Us About How Tech Evolves?
New technologies and products fail all the time — but sometimes those failures turn into something unexpected. In this episode, we’re exploring the surprising ways that technology evolves.Remember Segway, the personal transporter that became a cultural joke? Turns out, it’s a major force behind the scooter revolution.Remember Google Glass, the augmented-reality glasses that freaked everyone out and became an object of scorn? It's now a powerful tool in manufacturing and industry.Uplight has a few examples of technology investments that didn’t pan out — but they led down a path to other interesting areas of product development. We’ll revisit a few of them.We’ll also talk with a venture capitalist who’s evaluating all kinds of consumer technologies — some without an obvious application in energy — that could benefit the way utilities deliver services.Guests featured in this episode:Steven Levy, journalist and editor-at-large for WIREDLindsay Luger, partner at Energy Impact PartnersResources:Steven Levy’s article on the startling second act for Google GlassCNN feature on Segway’s surprising impact on the scooter revolutionILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, the leading provider of end-to-end customer-centric technology solutions dedicated solely to serving the energy ecosystem. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
20 Jun 2019
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Reflections on Utility Disruption With Adrian Tuck
Over the last four episodes, we’ve detailed the history of corporate innovation, wins and fails in customer strategies, the winding path of technology adoption, and the role of big corporates in catalyzing change.We’ve been talking about the recent and distant past, trying to understand how it applies to the competitive challenges that energy companies face today.In this episode, we are revisiting those themes — and looking to the future — with Tendril, now Uplight, CEO Adrian Tuck.Adrian has two decades of experience building companies and bringing technologies to market. He spends a lot of time thinking about what other industries can teach utilities about embracing disruptive change.We’ll talk start the episode by looking at the impact of artificial intelligence with Erik Brynjolffson, director of the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. AI is mostly good at narrow tasks — and that leaves a lot of room for the things that humans are good at: creativity, relationships, persuasion, leadership.Then, Adrian joins us to talk about how AI will impact the energy industry. He’ll also share thoughts on other emerging tech trends, how utilities can set up a culture of innovation, and why leaders fail to embrace change.ILLUMINATORS is brought to you by Uplight, the leading provider of end-to-end customer-centric technology solutions dedicated solely to serving the energy ecosystem. Subscribe on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.
27 Jun 2019