In March this year, ENGIE presented the first five new businesses to be developed by employees in the Group's own business incubator. NextFlex is one of them... This startup makes it possible to reduce the power consumption of an industrial site on demand and in less than two hours. It also recycles unconsumed power generated on site to grid operators. Its creator Christophe Huguet explains...
Offering industrial sites and service industry facilities1 the opportunity to cut their power consumption and recycle their unconsumed megawatts to European grid operators: that's the innovative idea developed successfully by Christophe Huguet. Others have had similar ideas, which is why Christophe Huguet - who has combined his technical skills with marketing throughout his career with ENGIE - has targeted his solution at mid-size facilities.
His concept promotes what the company calls 'power flexibility' for these facilities, which in practice means giving them the ability to adjust their power consumption quickly (within two hours) on request. The result is that NextFlex successfully delivers twin benefits: income for customer facilities and the flexibility required to respond to peaks in power demand right across Europe.
And it works! NextFlex is now providing power flexibility to 76 customer sites in France, from hypermarkets to food processing plants. The potential for power consumption reduction totals an impressive 120 MW. The startup will continue to expand in France, and is planning to establish a presence in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.
1spending more than €200,000 per year on power bills..
So where did the idea for your startup come from, and what prompted you to turn the idea into a reality?
As an ENGIE employee working in the Corporate and Local Authority marketing team, I was very aware of the issues involved in the energy transition, and had already tried to develop a power flexibility service, because I knew that there was a market for it. But it was far from easy to put my plans into action within the strict framework of a large corporate group. So when ENGIE launched its startup business incubator, I saw it immediately as the ideal way of developing my idea much more quickly.
Was it your dream to be a leading light in the energy transition?
I already felt that I was a stakeholder in the energy transition, but the in-house business incubator gave me the opportunity to move straight up to the cutting edge of that transition, and benefit from the best of both worlds: the freedom to be entrepreneurial and take risks without necessarily having a great deal of forward visibility, and the opportunity to draw on the expertise, networks and transmission capabilities of ENGIE.
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 had the outlines of the service in my head, but the real challenge was turning my idea into a viable business. At the very start of the incubation process, I received personalized coaching, and was given advice on recruiting and retaining my team, developing my marketing abilities and - gradually - developing the package of skills needed to be an effective startup principal. Back at the very beginning, we imposed restrictions on ourselves, mainly as a result of our lack of self-confidence. But the incubation phase is precisely what is needed to give you that assurance.
Are you still supported by ENGIE today? If so, is that still essential?
Yes. I'm now out of the incubation phase and into the acceleration phase. But I'm still able to rely on ENGIE support to do that. The ability for NextFlex to remain part of a leading energy provider adds real value to our business. We are now able to exploit sales and marketing strategies with Group business sectors, because our service adds extra richness to the packages they already offer, and the financial support of ENGIE helps us to be a lean, low-cost operation, and therefore compete more effectively.