Kristin Aamodt and Statoil Technology Invest evaluate more than 300 ideas each year—but only a few make the grade. Here’s her advice to entrepreneurs.

“Working with entrepreneurs is truly inspiring,” says Kristin Aamodt. She’s head of Statoil Technology Invest (STI), a venture capital arm of Equinor specialising in finding the best technology entrepreneurs and helping them to succeed.

It’s something they have been doing since 1991, and they do it by investing and assisting on the ownership side while the technology matures. STI attracts and assists innovative companies, helping them to develop and commercialise new technology which we can use in our operations.

Overall, STI evaluates more than 300 ideas every year, and they have “feelers” out everywhere, ranging from universities and incubators to seed and venture capital funds. But only a very few make the grade: STI invests in only 1—2 percent of the companies under consideration.

What is Statoil Technology Invest?

Statoil Technology Invest is a venture capital arm of Equinor ASA specialising in seed and early stage investments. STI currently has around 20 companies in its portfolio, and seeks to invest in energy with a focus on upstream technologies, exploration, reservoir, drilling and well, safety, environment, and renewable energy.

STI invests in developing technologies that can be implemented into Equinor's operations and be patented, with the goal of divesting the start-up once it is mature enough to stand alone. 

Battery success after collaboration

One of the companies that made the cut was Corvus Energy.

“We’re making history now, and we are alone in leading the way,” says Willie Wågen, head of sales and marketing at Corvus Energy.  “We were the first to put batteries on board vessels. We delivered the first fully electric ferry, and we delivered the first battery-powered offshore supply vessel.”

Not only the first — but another 99 of them to date. Since having been under Statoil Technology Invest’s wing for three years, the entrepreneurial company Corvus just signed its hundredth contract. That means that 100 ferries, supply vessels and other vessels are now powered by the company’s battery packs.

“There were a few enthusiastic souls at Equinor who talked about putting batteries on supply vessels a few years ago. It has taken time to realise this, but it is really inspiring to see that it has now become a reality,” says Kristin Aamodt.

The story of Corvus is just one of several examples of why STI is so keen to establish ties to entrepreneurs with good ideas and help such companies develop further.

These are some of the ideas that STI has helped entrepreneurs to succeed with:

  • Batteries that can drive hybrid and fully electric ships have been developed by Corvus.
  • Fully automated drill floors have been developed together with Robotic Drilling Systems based on an idea that originally came from the automation sector of the automotive industry.
  • The company Eelume originated from NTNU and is developing a “snake robot” that will become a self-propelled caretaker for subsea installations.
  • There are a handful of entrepreneurial companies that have developed technology that is essential to automated drilling, such as the company Sekal with its software that can anticipate challenges in the drilling operation before they occur. 
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Willie Wågen works at Corvus Energy – one of the entrepreneurial companies that has succeeded after collaborating with Equinor.

One hybrid ship = 1,000 cars off the road

Willie Wågen points to the ship Far Sun, which is docked in Stavanger. The ship is 94 metres long, 21 metres wide, and has been custom ordered by Equinor from the shipping company Farstad.

Corvus supplied the battery pack on board that is part of the ship’s hybrid system.

“Our ambition by installing batteries on a vessel is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Installing batteries on a vessel like the one behind us here is equivalent to taking a thousand cars off the road.”

Wågen estimates that shipowners can save 25 to 30 per cent of their fuel expenses, and 15 to 20 per cent of their maintenance expenses, by switching to batteries.

In the hybrid solution, the batteries work seamlessly, much like a Toyota Prius, where you hardly notice if the ship changes from engine to battery operation.

In the hybrid solution, the batteries work seamlessly, much like a Toyota Prius, where you hardly notice if the ship changes from engine to battery operation. 

In addition, the batteries will always be there as a backup in the event of any operational disruptions. As a result of this backup function, instead of running an additional engine just to be safe like before, now the batteries can do the job without using any fuel or engine operating hours.

How the batteries from Corvus work:

  • The batteries from Corvus can be integrated into fully electric systems, plug-in hybrids and pure hybrids.
  • On board the supply vessel the Far Sun, which is 94 metres long and 21 metres wide, a pure hybrid system is installed.
  • On the car ferry Ampere, which has been mentioned a great deal in the media, Corvus has installed a fully electric system.
  • The Far Sun and corresponding vessels usually have a 10 MW power station, but they normally use 1 to 5 MW depending on their operations and the weather. 
  • Willie Wågen estimates that if the ship is making a week-long round trip in the North Sea, the calculation will be 1500 kW X 24 hours X 7 days = 252,000 kWh total.
     
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We are making history now, and we are alone in leading the way,” says Willie Wågen.

“Right to support this”

With the support of Statoil Technology Invest and a clear goal of being able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from offshore ship traffic, Corvus and other entrepreneurial companies have managed to develop lithium-ion batteries that are robust enough to withstand the conditions that ships in the North Sea must withstand. And they are integrated with systems that work if there is a need for a backup engine when sailing near an oil platform.

For Aamodt, the calculation is quite simple:

“When the hybridisation of just one supply vessel is equivalent to removing 1,000 cars from Norwegian roads, there is little doubt that Statoil Technology Invest was right to support this,” says Aamodt.

“Here we have been among the companies that have been at the forefront, and we hope that the rest of the industry will be following us,” she says.

“I think we need to keep two things in mind simultaneously: I think we should be really proud of the oil and gas production we have in Norway. We must make it as safe, efficient and sustainable as we can, but we should also build up as much as we can based on renewable energy,” says Aamodt.

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"Our goal is to build strong technology companies that can stand on their own two feet, and that can become good suppliers to us.”

Building companies is the goal

At Statoil Technology Invest, our goal is not to find ideas that will subsequently become technology owned by Equinor.

“It is pretty important that this is made known,” says Aamodt. “Our goal is to build strong technology companies that can stand on their own two feet and become good suppliers to us.”

Statoil Technology Invest believes accordingly that we are helping to move the entire industry forward technologically. And entrepreneurs are absolutely essential,” says Aamodt.

“Entrepreneurs can try and fail. They are good at trying and failing. They can turn around quickly and make adjustments.”

When Statoil Technology Invest goes in on the ownership side, assists with business development and helps the entrepreneurs understand what a potential customer actually needs, they also have an opportunity to influence development in other ways at the same time.

“When the goal was to implement the use of batteries offshore, not only did the technology have to be created, the entire market did as well. In fact, Equinor is not even a direct customer of Corvus itself, but it has established framework conditions to stimulate the use of batteries,” says Aamodt.

When Equinor announced seven contracts to charter ships last summer, one of the conditions was precisely more environmentally friendly technology.

“Then the shipping companies turned around and said: We will put batteries in!”

Kristin Aamodt’s top tips for entrepreneurs

 

Assemble a winning team

Who you have with you on your team can be essential to your success. We see that great teams can practically turn water into wine. Bear in mind that your team should be assembled with people who complement each other—if you’re technically talented, you perhaps need someone who is more market-oriented?  

Know your customer

You must build up a very good understanding of who your customer is and precisely what problem you need to solve is as early as possible. Why is the customer willing to pay for precisely your solution? There are a lot of things that are “nice to have”, but if you possess technology or an idea that your customer cannot manage without, that is something completely different.

Dare to think big, but be realistic

Anyone who invests in your idea would like to see that you have a unique competitive advantage and a large potential market. You must be able to illustrate “the big picture”, but at the same time be realistic about what it takes to get there.

Make sure that your timing is good and luck is on your side

“If your entrepreneurial idea sounds like it is too good to be true, then it usually is just that,” says Aamodt. She reminds us nonetheless that sometimes it can also be a real gold mine.

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