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Silvia Mendez: Leading innovation and collaboration in Europe

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Silvia Méndez loves a challenge and is always ready to put her entrepreneurial mindset and business acumen to the test. She is a professional expert in startups who has an in-depth knowledge of the main technological trends: the open innovation ecosystem, digital twins, data analysis, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, cybersecurity, IoT, detection remote data, satellites, artificial vision and many others. The Collider had the opportunity to chat with Silvia about the growth potential within the European startup ecosystem.

Silvia manages the Enel Innovation Hub in Europe since 2016

This hub is one of the ten Innovation Hubs that the Enel Group has throughout the world, and it plays a fundamental role in promoting innovation in the energy sector. Silvia is in charge of exploring the European entrepreneurship ecosystem and finding opportunities to collaborate with startups, SMEs, venture capital companies, incubators, accelerators and research centers or universities.

Before coming to Enel, Silvia spent more than 10 years working at consulting firms such as PwC and Capgemini. She also took the Executive Master in Digital Business from ESADE Business School (Madrid) and a course on digital strategy at the Leavy Business School of Santa Clara University (California). She is a member of the ESADE Business School innovation committee and advises those who want to start a business.

Can you explain your current role and how you wound up in it?

I’ve been with Enel for about five or six years now. First, I scout European start-ups and SMEs to bring new value to our business lines and customers. Secondly, we work to increase brand awareness and make the innovation community bigger via partnerships in our main European hotspot ecosystems such as France, Germany, UK, Portugal, the Nordics, and more.

Enel has distributed hubs around the globe. How have you managed them? Have you detected any emergent innovation ecosystems in your sector?

We have hubs in Silicon Valley, one in Boston, three in Italy, mine in Spain, another in Russia, and also in Chile and Brazil. We are covering the most relevant ecosystems worldwide. Talent is present here in Europe – the pace of innovation here is moving very fast, so we have dedicated teams in each location that are able to identify opportunities and place resources where needed.

 

 

How do you view the Spanish ecosystem compared to other areas or hubs?

Spain is one of the strongest ecosystems in Europe and probably worldwide. We are fortunate to have two main hotspots, Madrid and Barcelona. The investment ratio is growing year after year in Spain, and more and more Spanish unicorns are coming into the market. We are definitely competing with the main European ecosystems, and I would say the best is yet to come.

In such a big corporation, how do you connect the start-ups/spin-offs with your technical units? How do you involve them in pilots or projects with external innovation?

We have a very mature open innovation model with clear structures and processes for large companies. We don’t do random innovation. That means we respond to business requirements with innovation. We follow a very particular methodology: we start with a long list of standards and work with the business to narrow it down to meet their needs. For every single business line, there is a specific innovation team dedicated to validating the technical part of the solution. Finally, we present a proof of concept if everything aligns. It’s a clear path in most cases.

Do you have a specific interest in deep tech? Do you already work with any science-based start-ups or projects?

Deep tech is the combination of scientific innovation and technology. It’s a must right now. There are myriad complex projects that need to be understood and supported before going to market. It is definitely booming. Over time it will become more of a commodity, but it’s one of our priorities for sure.

What kind of new technologies do you think will be trending in the coming years in the clean tech/energy sector?

There are many, but I would bet on green hydrogen. We’re more focused on other technologies that apply to our core business, but green hydrogen is part of a macro trend that is very relevant for us right now. Also, AI is very promising in order to analyse how we use energy and how to be more efficient. 

What’s the importance of the tech transfer? What opportunities does it present to new start-ups? Any predictions for the future of tech transfer in Spain?

We are part of a cycle where every single actor in the ecosystem is needed. Universities, research centres, money coming from venture capital, talent coming from incubators and accelerators, Collider programs… all the way to public administrations, corporations, and start-ups or SMEs. Every single actor has a function within this cycle. In Spain, we’ve been able to do some things on our own. But moving forward, we need this community.

What is your relationship with The Collider and, in your opinion, what’s the unique value provided by The Collider?

In my point of view, the factor that differentiates The Collider from other corporate collaboration organisations is that it provides real added value to companies. It connects science and entrepreneurial talent to create disruptive technology that will address the needs of society. The way it connects academia, university research centres, and companies is unique because without those kinds of connections, many companies fail to provide the best solutions even after several validations. But with support from The Collider, we’ve been able to make it happen.

Could you share with us a source of inspiration? Or a mentor you've had in your career?

I feel deep admiration and respect for individuals who work to create a better world through  innovation. It sounds simple, but it’s not that easy. It takes deep, concentrated analysis to find solutions. It’s very intense, and that’s the attitude I try to have every day.

What has been the most rewarding experience in your career so far?

I love the moment where we close commercial agreements with start-ups. We tell them, “Okay, let’s collaborate. Let’s start finding solutions.” That’s when innovation becomes business, and I thrive on those moments.