Shell Gamechanger – The Giant still wants Big Ideas

by Paul Sloane

The Shell Gamechanger initiative was launched in 1996.  Its mission was to deliver innovative options that have the potential to drastically impact the energy future.  Soon after its inception, Gary Hamel wrote this comment, ‘The Gamechanger programme is still fragile. The 1998 slump in oil prices threw Shell into a frenzy of cost cutting. Whether Gamechanger will survive in its current form remains to be seen. But it has demonstrated unequivocally that entrepreneurial passion lurks everywhere – even deep in the canyons of a 92 year-old oil company.’  Well the programme has survived but how is it doing and is it delivering on its mission?

I recently visited the Shell Technology Centre in Amsterdam and met Marian Marino, the Spanish woman who leads the Gamechanger intiative.  She has staff of eight and they all have different nationalities.  To ensure diversity and freshness people are rotated out of the group after a maximum of four years.  They encourage ideas from within and without Shell.  The criteria they use in evaluating ideas are as follows

  1. Novelty – is the idea fundamentally different?
  2. Value – could the idea generate substantial new value?
  3. Ability to execute  – can the concept be proven?
  4. Why Shell? – does this play to Shell’s strengths and strategy?

Here are some facts and figures about the programme.  Since it started it has received over 10,000 ideas and helped over 1700 innovators around the world.  Over 100 ideas have been turned into reality – this equates to around 1% of submissions.  Currently they receive an average of 250 credible ideas per year.  Around half of the ideas are external and half internal.  An average of 10 ideas per year reaches proof of concept (4%).  A smaller number achieve full implementation and you can see some of them on the Gamechanger web page. One of the big ideas to emerge is the Floating Liquid Natural Gas plant – a massive 600,000 tonne ship containing a complete LNG plant.  Traditionally, LNG plants are built on land. But Shell is now constructing the largest offshore floating facility ever built.

Daniel Pusiol, an external expert in nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) proposed adapting NMR techniques to measure mingled fluid flow (oil, gas and water) in a pipe.  Working with Daniel, Shell developed a way to apply the technology of medical MRI scanners in the energy industry. GameChanger helped Daniel develop a prototype, the “flowmeter”, which can improve understanding of the way fluids, like oil, move through porous rock.

One arm of the Gamechanger programme, Shell Technology Ventures, invested in Glasspoint, a solar power company that uses its renewable energy to increase crude oil production.  It deploys rows of curved mirrors in greenhouses to turn water into steam, which is then injected into oilfields to heat heavy crude oil so it will flow out more easily.

Shell does not do crowdsourcing as such but it has four open innovation vehicles, External Technology Collaborations, Shell TechWorks, Shell Technology Ventures and Shell GameChanger. Initiatives like Shell LiveWire and Shell Ideas360 encourage entrepreneurship among a wider audience. Shell is now sponsoring XPRIZE, a global competition challenging teams to advance deep-sea technologies for ocean exploration.

If an external inventor or entrepreneur submits a promising idea they are assigned a ‘co-proponent’ to help them through the screening process.  The initial screening is carried out by a panel of just two people and they promise a response within 48 hours.   If the external idea appears to meet the criteria then Shell offers three routes forward.

  1. Proprietary – the idea is acquired by Shell and they develop it.
  2. Licensing – this is particularly applicable when joint capabilities and development are needed.
  3. Venturing – a new company is set up to bring the idea to market.

Compared with companies like Dell or Unilever the number of ideas submitted and approved for the Shell open innovation programme appears low.  But their aims and criteria are very different.  Shell Gamechanger is serious about substantial ideas.  They do not want minor improvements to gas stations.  They want to be the first port of call for a company or inventor who has a big idea that can change the nature of energy generation or conservation.  They want to change the game.

image credit: play.google.com


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Paul SloanePaul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader and editor of A Guide to Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing, published both published by Kogan-Page. Follow him @PaulSloane

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