In March this year, ENGIE presented the first five new businesses to be developed by Group employees within its in-house business incubator. They include blu.e, which aims to use information technologies and big data to boost industry performance in general, and energy performance in particular. We meet with its Director Tanguy Mathon.
blu.e has been developed out of a central fact of life and a vision for the future: the digital transformation of industry. So how do we use the best technologies available today - especially big data - to improve the energy performance achieved by industry? This vision is that of one man: Tanguy Mathon, who has spent his entire career improving the operational performance of industrial key accounts, first at Air Liquide over a period of 20 years, then as an independent entrepreneur, and now as an ENGIE Group intrapreneur.
blu.e is a software platform that gathers data relating to industrial operating processes. These data come from many different internal sources (production, consumption, maintenance, off-line sensors, manual readings, etc.) and external sources (financial data, weather data, etc.). blu.e is a digital platform that uses data from industrial operating processes to build business-wide energy performance indicators and propose installation management scenarios.
Industrial companies themselves are clearly persuaded, since blu.e generated revenue of €500,000 in 2015; a figure that is expected to increase significantly this year. Its portfolio of prospective customers covers a very diverse spectrum of industry, from food production to chemicals and steelmaking. The solutions offered by blu.e are also being progressively integrated by the ENGIE Group: 20 orders have already been placed.
How was your startup idea born?
In 2006, I was still with Air Liquide as its Head of Group Efficiency Programs, and later moved on to manage its Key Accounts. It was the combination of experience gained in those two roles that led me to the conviction that significant potential existed for improving the performance of industry by making better use of digital technologies. I then asked myself the question of where those solutions could be applied, and the energy transition was the natural answer.
So what facilitated the move from idea to action?
I asked my senior managers to provide me with the resources needed to explore this opportunity for developing a new business line. That idea was well received, which encouraged me to develop it in greater detail in my own time. Since the support of the Group was slow to materialize, I left to become an independent entrepreneur. Three years later and despite having my first customer contract, I had to halt the project as a result of being unsuccessful in gaining the backing of a major Group... It was too ambitious a project for an independent entrepreneur.
Was it your dream to become an entrepreneur and/or leading stakeholder in the energy transition?
When I was a student, I took up an option to create a company in my third year. Twenty years later, an expatriate assignment in Scandinavia gave me a new awareness of the importance of environmental issues. The juxtaposition of these two - now distant - events is the explanation for what has happened since...
Do you think your idea would have seen the light of day without the Open Innovation initiative and the ENGIE startup incubator?
Definitely not. I joined ENGIE in 2012 as Process Industry Market Director at ENGIE Cofely. I'd never lost the determination to contribute to the energy transition, but had been deprived of the opportunity. I would never have been able to reactivate the blu.e project without the support of the Group.
Could you please explain to us how the Lean Startup method used in this ENGIE business incubation process actually works?
It consists of going to market the moment we have a viable product, rather than waiting until it is totally complete in every detail. The internal market we addressed - energy company plants that are already very efficient - was simultaneously very receptive and very demanding. We had to find early adopters, sell them our solutions, and then provide hard technical evidence of their efficiency and profitability. Having passed this 'crash test', we were absolutely convinced that we were now ready to emerge successfully into the external market.
Are you still supported by ENGIE today? If so, is that support still essential?
We are supported by ENGIE, because we are funded by the Group and promoted by its specialist subsidiaries as a solution available to all parts of the Group. Otherwise, we now operate within an independent structure called SSInergie and must survive on our own.