BP Technology Group, challenging the scale-up capability

Stephen Cook is Chief Commercial Officer, Group Technology at BP since 2017, committed to  commercial deals in technology-related business development, also cultivating and delivering capability in technology strategy, and intelligence.

stephen cook

Can you describe the missions of your entity, the Group Technology at BP?

Group Technology is BP’s central innovation function, providing joined-up leadership of technology in BP to create transformational business value and supporting the longer-term renewal of the company.

Within Group Technology we have recently created a ‘Business Development’ group, for which I am the Chief Commercial Officer. This group includes BP Ventures (our CVC business), teams that commercialize and scale new technology and our work on emerging & disruptive technology in the energy industry.

Business Development in Group Technology exists to do two things: to build and scale new energy businesses for BP and to create long term thought leadership which helps drive our corporate and business strategy.

BP Horizons

What are the outcome of your entity that you are particularly proud of? Can you name a few deal examples or success stories?

We have recently published the BP Technology Outlook which is our view of how technology can impact the energy industry out to 2050 which you can find  on www.bp.com/technologyoutlook.

I think this provides a unique perspective on energy technology which could be an inspiration for entrepreneurs looking for opportunities for new breakthroughs in energy innovation.

I’m also really proud of some of our recent investments in great start-ups that we think could grow global new energy businesses of the future, for example in waste to fuels, we have invested in Fulcrum, and they are using BP’s leading gas to liquids technology in their projects so that we can produce biojet for aircraft.

We have also invested in Beyond Limits, a US based cognitive computing company, and we are already generating a range of successful proofs of concept in our businesses that are tremendously exciting.

In our core business we are commercializing the next generation of real-time sensing and seismic imaging technologies which we think will revolutionize these areas of our industry.

BP

What are the main obstacles you had to overpass in the set-up of your activity?

In corporate venturing, like any CVC we have had to move through the various stages of setting up and growing a portfolio, in particular maintaining executive support in years 5-7 of the CVC activity is a challenge since this is a time when a lot of money has been spent and the portfolio has yet to mature and generate exits or deployment value.

Thankfully our leadership has remained committed, and venturing is now part of our corporate strategy.  Another key challenge is the pace at which we need to operate in the start-up world vs the pace at which corporate processes operate, and we have largely addressed these in the way in which we have set up our ventures investment committee. The biggest challenge, however, is how to scale up the great concepts that  have reached minimum viable product stage.

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Are you offering incubation programs to intrapreneurs?

How many intrapreneurs do you incubate per year? Are you targeting essentially BP employees, or also external startups?

We target both internal and external innovation at early stages, for example we are partnering with an incubator in Aberdeen focused on oil & gas technology called Tech X, and we are also partnering with an incubator in San Francisco (Rocket space) which is curating innovation in advanced mobility.

Internally we have a variety of programs which help accelerate ideas to proof of concept from our own people.

In addition to this we also do some pre-equity investing in really early stage start-ups, and will work very closely with them to help build the business plan, and accelerate the learning cycle through use of technology in our business.

We have a number of programs across our business areas including an ‘Innovation Engine’ in our Upstream Technology group which provides time and funding to anyone with a great idea, along with mentoring from senior technology experts.

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How do you handle the scale-up phase?

Are you oriented toward transitioning the intrapreneur project into an external startup, or to an internal business unit?

Scaling-up is one of the most difficult areas, especially where you are building new or adjacent businesses in new technology areas, some of which could eventually be disruptive to today’s core business.

In the past we have not always achieved growing new businesses that have originated from inside our company and we have certainly not scaled up at pace. Today as BP is striving to provide energy that will meet the needs of the world environmentally and economically and in the process transform the lives of billions of people, it is increasingly important that we harness innovation and rapidly take new ideas to scale.

Therefore, we are building new capability in this area focusing on collaborative work – we have been involved with amongst a peer group of corporates from a range of sectors – with the aim of creating new energy businesses for the future that enable BP to continue to compete in a world that is changing fast.

The exit-point for our scale-ups will be determined by our strategy, the market and where the scaling ventures pivot to – so we don’t have a pre-determined outcome for whether these businesses become internal business units or spin-outs in which BP has a stake.

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What are your next challenges?

Our immediate challenges are firstly to build and prove our scale-up capability and secondly to expand our innovation ecosystem across more regions of the world – China for example.

Thereafter that we are moving beyond simple point-to-point investments or collaborations, and working to orchestrate the creation of new energy value chains by linking investments, partners, and customers together, across of range of new technologies and business models.

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