Laura Plunkett Lesker, Director – External Venture Strategy at Saint-Gobain speaks with TechConnect News.
Please tell us about yourself and your role within Saint-Gobain?
I joined Saint-Gobain in 2014 out of business school (INSEAD) as the director of strategy for CertainTeed, a North American brand of Saint-Gobain’s construction products. After about two years, I moved on to the external ventures team focused on creating opportunities for open innovation for the entire Group. I love that the ventures group is truly global (our teammates are spread throughout the US, France, and China) and we get to think about emerging concepts that can impact the business in big way.
What are technology/solution areas that you have a primary interest in?
The NOVA External Ventures team has been around since 2006. For the first ten or so years, the small, but agile NOVA team engaged and pursued technologies with almost no boundary as the Saint-Gobain portfolio is so diverse. It might be worth noting that Saint-Gobain is looking for partners not just for innovative technologies, but ways of doing business as well.
In the last 18 months, we have been piloting a more structured approach. The global NOVA team is now organized around six target areas (one per member of the team). Two of the areas of focus are business unit specific (our plastics life sciences and engineered components businesses). The remaining four are transversal in nature and have wide ranging implications for the Group:
• Augmented and Virtual Reality for both internal and external applications
• Sensors & Connected Objects (IoT) also for internal and external use
• The Digital Customer Journey to enable efficient and inspired choice for our customers
• Multi-comfort which is aligned with many of Saint-Gobain’s habitat related offerings. Multi-comfort for owners and occupants of spaces may mean a number of different things: lighting, acoustic, air quality, etc.
What level of commercial maturity do you typically look for in technology partnerships?
There really is no hard rule here, as we have experienced a wide range. We’ve partnered in a JDA with an entrepreneur in a pre-prototype phase, and with companies that are already in market and looking to expand geographically or into another commercial vertical.
Every partnership does have something in common, and it is an element of shared learning. We are not taking positions in start ups for only financial return.
Tell us why innovation is important to your company and how this model supports your efforts to find new innovations.
Saint-Gobain upholds a rich history of innovation by helping to create great living places that enhance the well-being of people everywhere. From the Hall
of Mirrors at Versailles and the glass pyramid at the Louvre, to The Statue of Liberty and The World Trade Center, and even components that allow the Mars Rover Curiosity to seek out life on another planet, Saint-Gobain has been a part of the fabric of human history, advancement and improvement for more than 350 years. For the 6th year in a row, Saint-Gobain has been ranked by Thomson Reuters among the 100 most innovative companies in the world. Today, one of every four Saint-Gobain products sold was developed in the last five years.
To accelerate innovation, Saint-Gobain has a division dedicated to establishing partnership agreements (co-development, licensing or collaboration agreements) with start-ups offering innovative solutions in the fields of building materials, energy efficiency, clean technology, integrated lighting solutions, construction services, and innovative materials and technologies. To date, Saint-Gobain NOVA External Venturing has established seventy partnerships with startup companies.
In addition, the company explores partnerships with incubators. Since 2014, Saint-Gobain has partnered with Greentown Labs, the largest clean technology incubator in the world, to push the boundaries of clean technology innovation. Through the partnership, Saint-Gobain has a collaborative workspace where the company’s building scientists work alongside member start-up companies to build and test prototypes.
Why work with TechConnect and the National Innovation Summit as a technology prospector? Who are you looking to meet with?
Saint-Gobain has partnered with TechConnect for a number of years and has always found the community to be smart, dedicated, and engaged. We’re looking forward to another great year.