Russ: Welcome back to The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business. Our guest today is Rebecca Taylor, Technology Innovation Advisor at Shell; Rebecca, welcome to The BusinessMakers Show.
Rebecca: I’m really glad to be here, Russ.
Russ: You bet.
Rebecca: This is a really great show.
Russ: Well, good and I’m glad to have you here, but tell us about being a Technology Innovation Advisor at Shell. What do you do in that position?
Rebecca: Well, it’s a relatively new role. In fact, we’re piloting it and the purpose is to be on the lookout for technologies and partners that we can work with that are a little bit non-traditional, a little bit unusual; and that ranges from startups to teams at universities that are doing things that are ready to commercialize.
Russ: Okay, is this in the energy space though, they’re innovating with oil and gas or other energies?
Rebecca: Yes, the tie it all of the technologies that we look at is that it has to have some meaningful impact – positive – on Shell’s current abilities and operations.
Russ: Okay, how long have you been in this position?
Rebecca: This is brand new as of January this year. Prior to that I was a Venture Principal in Shell Technology Ventures, which is the corporate venture arm of Shell and I helped stand that out, but my real remit is that for 25 years I’ve been doing startups in Austin, Texas for the most part.
Russ: Okay, cool. So are you looking for early stage or late stage or successful companies that might have an innovation piece to spin off?
Rebecca: Given the size of Shell it’s sort of all of the above but really the sweet spot would be finding a company that’s fairly early in the development process that engagement with Shell would meaningfully accelerate the day on which their technology is ready for us to deploy; so we shrink that window.
Russ: Okay, have you been doing it long enough now to have sort of a success story under your belt?
Rebecca: Well, in Shell Technology Ventures’ portfolio is roughly a dozen companies and that’s a very, very hot start; the organization’s only been around for about a year and a half or two. One of the first investments that Shell Tech Ventures made was for a company called GlassPoint which I like because it shows the intersection of renewable technologies with current existing fossil fuel operations. And what GlassPoint does is it takes solar power and creates concentrated solar heat which we’re using to create steam in one of our major facilities in Oman and we use that steam for enhanced oil recovery operations out of our existing reservoirs. So instead of using natural gas and burning it to create steam we’re actually using the sun.
Russ: Wow, solar powered steam for enhanced oil recovery; that’s pretty cool.
Rebecca: Yeah, and that’s a really cool example of the kinds of things we look for.
Russ: Okay, but what you’re doing today, does that compete against Shell Technology Ventures?
Rebecca: No. In fact, what I’m doing is in large part going to result in more filtered startups that have applications that are of interest to the wells, deep water, Arctic and water technology platforms within Shell. If I find a company or start up out there that I think applies to one of those four areas and then I introduce them into Shell Tech Ventures they’re kind of pre-filtered a little bit more than a typical startup might be.
Russ: Okay and this one that you just talked about, it’s called GlassPoint?
Rebecca: GlassPoint, they’re out of California.
Russ: Okay, did you find them and bring them in or do you already?
Rebecca: Oh no, that pre-dates my arrival.
Russ: Okay, you were already in Shell.
Russ: So what do you do day to day right now?
Rebecca: Talk to people like you about the kinds of technologies that we’re looking for. I spoke at South by Southwest Interactive this past March.
Russ: Well that’s how you got on our radar too. We found it very interesting that Shell had somebody presenting at South by Southwest.
Rebecca: Well so did a lot of other people. Apparently our teeny little table, which was about a third of the size of this conference room table, we had 2,500 visitors.
Russ: Oh my goodness.
Rebecca: And so there were a lot of people that were very interested and intrigued with why an oil company would be coming to South-By Interactive, so it was a very good place for us to step out.
Russ: So let’s say, you know this show is watched by a lot of entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs and stuff and you’ve already sort of given a general category but get a little bit more specific, what are you looking for?
Rebecca: Well, in the area of sensors we’re looking for sensors that maybe measure normal things like pressure and temperature but are able to do it in environments that are very challenging. I like to describe what Shell does and all the oil and gas companies that do things as aggressively as Shell does is it’s sort of like NASA only we point down and NASA points up. But the challenges, things like the pressures that the sensors have to operate in – 20,000psi, you know your tires in your car sit at 42psi – and temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit and they have to do it for decades. And we prefer not to have to go get them which means they’ve got to have a way to communicate that data out.
Russ: Okay, fascinating; good luck on finding that.
Rebecca: So it’s a hunt for things – and so typical things that have to do them in very challenging places.
Russ: So that might be of major interest to somebody that makes sensing devices today, nowhere close to your parameters but tries to edge into that through innovation.
Rebecca: Exactly, and so it’s a learning – basically the speaking that I do as a part of my role is to motivate and activate a community by educating them about the kinds of things that we’re looking for.
Russ: Okay, well what’s another thing other than sensors?
Rebecca: We have a lot of issues with corrosion, both in the marine environment and just in the presence of very aggressive acids in the pipelines and we care a lot about detecting corrosion very, very, very early before it has a chance to create a real problem. And so we look for materials, basic materials – science kinds of solutions – that would help us in meaningful ways to make our pipelines more robust or help with making steel more resistant to some of the things that it comes into contact with.
Russ: Okay, is almost everything you deal with hardware oriented? In other words, you don’t look at new software companies or anything like that.
Rebecca: Oh we do but we’re not – I always want to be sure and explain that typically we’re not looking for apps. The software that we get really interested in is in the analytics arena; so with all these sensors and though seismic is a great example of that, with all the data that we collect – and it’s petabytes, the scale is enormous per day, per week – the real challenge with that is once you get all that data how do you go find the interesting information in it? And so there’s a lot of different applications and research going on into how do you deal with those massive quantities of data. And so yes, that’s another area that we look at in terms of new partnerships that we should consider.
Russ: So when you do go find something that you’re looking for, what do you do? Do you turn back around and you present it to Shell Technology Ventures or to Executive Management here or to the specific division that it applies to?
Rebecca: You can, it depends on the age and stage of the entity and it’s really days for us; I’m in the speaking stage right now, starting to get some connections and contacts and very focused on the partners that we might want to work with. And I should mention that the most effective way we have found for companies and startups and individuals with great ideas to present themselves to Shell is through our partners. So here in Houston we’ve got partnerships with the SURGE incubator accelerator which we really like. They have a great process that they use not only to identify energy related startups, but to help mature them more quickly than they would without SURGE being around. So we like to see companies come through those channels before they’re presented to us because it helps us in the due diligence and the filtration process.
Other partners that we are very impressed with here in Houston include the Houston Angel Network which I think I read recently is one of the top angel networks in the country.
Russ: Definitely, absolutely.
Rebecca: And then we’ve got the Houston Technology Center that we also like to work with. And so that ecosystem is part of what I’m helping to stimulate.
Russ: Okay, so let’s step out there and say somebody is watching and they say, “Man, I’ve got to get in touch with Rebecca.” How do they do that?
Rebecca: Well the best way is through those partners and tell them you want to talk to me; yeah, we’re very well connected with those folks.
Russ: Well, Rebecca, I really appreciate you sharing your perspective with us here today.
Rebecca: Russ, thank you for asking me to join, I appreciate it.
Russ: You bet, you bet. And that wraps up my discussion with Rebecca Taylor, Technology Innovation Advisor with Shell. And this is The BusinessMakers Show, brought to you by Comcast Business, built for business.
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