Shell E4 program aims to have 30 per cent startups from Tier -2 cities

Yatti Soni Bengaluru | Updated on October 17, 2021

Shell sold its stake in the open market after GAIL waived off its first right of refusal. File Photo   -  Reuters

The program will focus on start-ups providing digital energy solutions

Energy start-ups focused incubation program, Shell E4 aims to have 30 per cent of start-ups in its upcoming cohorts from Tier 2 cities and co-founded/founded by women.

Despite hundreds of incubators and accelerators in India, Shell India observed an absence of programs for energy technologies in the country. Backed by this observation, the Shell E4 program was launched to facilitate a transition to a sustainable energy future by acting as a significant player in India’s entrepreneurial context.

Launched in September 2017, Shell E4 has till now worked with 38 start-ups and plans to work with about 25 start-ups every year. With the 4th and 5th cohorts, the program will focus on start-ups providing digital energy solutions and the future of mobility for India, respectively.

As the program expects to announce its next cohort (Smart Energy Track) by mid-November, BusinessLine spoke to Debasis Goswami, General Manager, Shell E4 Startup Hub about the program’s thesis and the challenges faced by energy-related start-ups.

Why is a program like  Shell  E4 important, not just for  Shell  India, but also for India’s wider economy and climate targets?

The Shell E4 hub is important for several reasons. First, the transition to lower-carbon energy sources plays a key role in achieving three core elements of Shell’s global vision, all of which contribute to wider economic and climate targets. Second, the program provides key value drivers for Shell India, including a healthy funnel of energy-focused investment opportunities, new technologies and business models for current and emerging Shell businesses, the fostering of an entrepreneurial spirit, and increased contribution within India’s start-up ecosystem.

If you look at the broader environment today, the Indian government is focusing on maintaining strong economic growth. There is also a lot of emphasis on delivering Paris Agreement. In this context, Shell E4 start-ups are critical enablers for the new energy technologies that will contribute to both economic growth and climate targets in India.

What are the challenges faced by energy startups in India?

The start-up landscape in India is becoming increasingly competitive. Although the energy start-up ecosystem is developing rapidly, it is still in the growth stage. Consequently, mentorship opportunities and laboratory and infrastructure support are limited, and the timeline necessary to pilot, scale-up and deploy new technologies is prolonged. Energy start-ups require longer gestation periods and more rigorous standards for testing and validation given the nature of the sector and its focus on safety. Access to capital and establishing strong partnerships to accelerate start-up progress and to incubate them effectively is key. The Shell E4 program is geared towards energy entrepreneurs to ensure we address these challenges in the core design of the program

How has the  Shell  E4 hub helped the progress of start-ups during the program and after their graduation?

The start-ups are housed in a vibrant coworking space at Shell Technology Centre Bangalore, arguably the leading energy research and development center in India, for six months. Each company is offered seed funding of $20,000 and access to state-of-the-art testing and prototyping laboratories for product development and testing, bootcamps aimed at customer discovery and product improvement, access to industry mentors and experts, and new markets and interactions with investors, and other growth and funding opportunities.

Further, start-ups also get access to potential opportunities to engage in pilots and additional support like procuring chemicals on behalf of the startups, procuring prototyping services, providing fabrication support. This can run into tens of thousands of US dollars of spend per startup.

What specific challenges has  Shell  faced in establishing the  Shell  E4 program?

A key challenge is identifying and capturing best-in-class start-ups for the program. We are continuously trying to improve our start-up pipeline and it is important to keep expanding the available pool of start-ups. An example of this includes looking outside the big cities. We see many good start-ups being established in other parts of India, especially in Tier 2 locations, so we are currently working on to support these start-ups. If we can source start-ups from across the country, this will encourage more innovation in those areas and enable concentrations of start-ups to emerge.

It is also important to manage the expectations of start-ups. Sometimes progress is not as rapid as they want it to be. We try to avoid any mismatch in expectations by aligning the start-ups’ expectations with what is possible, realistic timelines and the processes inherent to large organizations.

Published on October 16, 2021

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