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3 ways water utilities can leverage coaching - Part 2

Updated: May 24, 2021

With a $1B revenue in the European sector, and a global growth of 12% p.a., the coaching industry is booming (1). Yet adoption in the water sector is still low. Coaching is utilities' new ally to accelerate innovation commercialisation and adoption.

The Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT) is allocating £200 million of UK customers' money to an annual collectively-funded innovation competition running the span of 2020-2025. This begs the consideration of business practices with boosting RedBull-like effect - from other countries, sectors or professions. Among other things, coaching can help teams adopt an innovation culture, build the pipeline of innovation to support business transformation, and empower teams to better deliver on outcomes.

This blog post forms part of a series highlighting 3 ways for you to implement coaching in the context your innovation management with practical illustrations of adoption pathways.

This second post looks into the role of coaching as part of Innovation Acceleration.

Build an innovation "powerhouse"

The innovation lab is where utilities and innovative SMEs meet and collaborate. Successful labs and accelerators use a portfolio of business support from investment support to attract funding, introduction to clients, mentoring, coaching and much more.

Coaching brings the following benefits to public or private water innovation labs and accelerators:

  • Utilities, universities, SMEs, startups, the regulator, customer and consumers are better aligned, create value, and better address utilities’ needs and problems.

  • Startups and SMEs pitch is more impactful. Value and benefits -to address specific challenges and utilities’ strategic objectives - are more prominent than a long list of technical features.

  • The SMEs' strategic focus and commercialisation route are clearer. Navigating the corporate utility world is facilitated and the upscaling of pilots is accelerated.

Businesses using a coach increase their net income by 46%

Source: ICF

  • SMEs can navigate more efficiently the industry supply chain. They can identify technical and distribution partners to market - in areas such as circular economy, tidal energy generation and collection of plastics in waterways - often essential to resolve some of the most complex industry challenges.

How to adopt?

The European Innovation Council (EIC) Accelerator initiated in 2016 is an example. With over 750 Business Innovation Coaches, it is probably one of the largest of its kind. €280m in grants are allocated to the energy topic (no water data available). Companies are awarded a grant of up to €2.5, some blended finance with private equity, and 12 days of business coaching with support for business, partnership and organisational development as well as access finance. Coaching and mentoring activities represent 1% of the €1.3b 2019/2020 EIC Accelerator budget. Some utilities run their own Innovation Labs and provide innovative SMEs with funds and business support. They could also co-finance companies receiving grants - in the above case provided they have a legal base in Europe - that will receive the business coaching, "part and parcel" with blended finance.

Whilst recently coaching at the Innovation lab of the energy utility EDP in Porto, I noticed startups from around the world get direct access to Executives to understand their challenges and work with them on solution, to receive training business support from the lab and when appropriate corporate venture funds. Watch the story of a French startup CEO interviewed by the CEO of EDP Innovation building the case for utility corporate venture. Business coaches are hired by innovation labs to help SMEs become "investor ready": with an attractive business model including scalability potential, a strong team able to pitch extremely complex technology with accessible words, the "right" clients or a business continuity plan.

All stages of the enterprise journey need close attention, not just the hurdles SMEs face during a specific pilot project. Utilities can use business coaching to bridge the company culture gap between the two worlds and develop lasting business collaborations, moving from a “project to project relationship” to an “interdependent and lasting partnership”.

Following the example of many corporates around the world, water companies have an opportunity to embrace coaching more holistically and to accelerate innovation commercialisation and adoption by optimising the alignment of teams across the entire business, the innovation lab and the water supply chain.

Watch this space as my next post looks at how coaching helps align and engage teams to deliver the regulatory and strategic objectives outcomes faster.

Virginie Vinel Kolovos MCIM

Business Transformation Coach | OKR coach CIM and EMCC Member

All rights reserved, November 2020


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