Rania Ekaterinari at capital.gr: “Τhe State-owned enterprises reach out to start-ups”

State-owned enterprises fostering innovation: Rania Ekaterinari about the HCAP Innovation Network initiatives to engage with the startup ecosystem and enable on-the-field collaborations.
Interview to Kostas Ketsietzis

Hellenic Corporation of Assets and Participations (HCAP) is inviting the Greek startup ecosystem to cooperation, through the technological competition series “HCAP Innovation Challenge” focusing on challenges faced by large State-Owned enterprises.

This competition series is different from the vast majority of innovation competitions announced nowadays. Rania Ekaterinari, HCAP’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) explains at capital.gr: “ “HCAP Innovation Challenge” belongs to a special category of competitions, called the “Incentivized Prize Competitions”, in which participants handle very difficult challenges or tough problems posed by the organizers and win prizes”.

However, unlike other innovation competitions that seek technological ideas developed in a preliminary or experimental stage, the awarded solutions of the HCAP competition series will be evaluated and verified in the enterprises’ operational environments.

“We are trying to connect technology stakeholders with the real challenges” noted Ms Ekaterinari, explaining that the participants will be invited to work with operational data of the State-Owned enterprises in HCAP’s portfolio.

Following the evaluation of the most successful solutions submitted, our companies’ executives will work to adopt the solutions within the operational environment of the respective enterprises. Our aspiration is for the solutions that will emerge from the HCAP competition series to benefit directly or indirectly all the citizens served by State-Owned enterprises.

The collaborations

According to HCAP’s CEO, the main goal of the initiative is to provide the country’s research and innovation ecosystem with the opportunity of direct contact and cooperation with stakeholders of the real economy and in particular the ones of the wider public sector. In this framework, the enterprises of the wider public sector can serve as “test beds” for new services and products, which, after being tested, could be developed towards the international market. “There can be multiple occurring benefits so that the silo mentality, which is always a deterrent factor to any progress, can be transformed” she mentions.

“The initiative’s success and the competitions’ conclusion with high quality solutions and value for the HCAP enterprises will lay the foundations for future collaborations”, Ms Ekaterinari also states, adding that “the shaping of the cooperation environment and collaboration conditions between the winning teams and the executives and business units of our companies, is a challenge for us as well”.

This is because, as she explains, “access of selected teams to data, infrastructure, business units and services, will have to be provided in a way that ensures business privacy and our companies’ interests without hindering research, efficiency and creativity”.

“The framework of cooperation between the competition winning teams and the HCAP enterprises should foster productivity, while taking into account the public interest, our companies’ regulatory framework, as well as national and EU legislation. In this context, each successful team’s collaboration with the respective enterprise will be further specialized according to the individual terms and conditions that each enterprise will apply”, Ms Ekaterinari notes.

International trends

The competition series comes at a time when enterprises that offer public services are accelerating their innovation pace globally.

For instance, in the United Kingdom, the Electricity Network Innovation Competition (NIC) is conducted between power grid companies for the development and demonstration of new technologies as well as innovative operational and commercial schemes.

In Singapore, the Energy Market Authority awards, inter alia, technological innovation in the field of energy (biannual Singapore Energy Αward), while PUB (Singapore’s National Water Agency), funds, after evaluation, proposals submitted to the Competitive Research Program for innovative solutions to challenges faced by water companies.

Ms Ekaterinari, when asked to provide an example of a possible solution delivered by an innovative start-up company, states that: “In a recent workshop on investments, participating European bodies reported that they are currently developing pilot projects in the water sector aimed at reducing losses, for instance through satellite imagery and solutions that detect leaks in underground water networks”.

The Next Steps

The competition series “HCAP Innovation Challenge” is not the only HCAP initiative towards the reinforcement of innovation in State Owned enterprises.

HCAP’s Innovation Network has already been created since 2019, as a platform for communication, interaction and know-how exchange between the companies under the HCAP portfolio and the national and international innovation ecosystem.

The Network’s goal is the exploration of technologies and best-practices of immediate interest, the promotion of synergies between companies with an emphasis on innovation, but also the achievement of maximum extroversion and synergy with national and international innovation actors (technology leaders, enterprise incubators, research foundations etc.).

Ms Ekaterinari highlights that: “Through the Network we are already planning and implementing actions for the exchange of know-how, best-practices, demand aggregation and synergies between companies in areas such as cybersecurity, e-mobility, data management and utilization, as well as the modernization of operational systems to support the Industry 4.0 requirements and the future interactive services”.

She underlines that: “To put it simply, until 2019, State-Owned enterprises would never meet to discuss in business and technocracy terms, even though they faced common problems. Today, through the Innovation network and with the participation of HCAP enterprises’ executives, with advanced technological and scientific background, this is reversed and collaboration is achieved.”.

Moreover, HCAP and its portfolio companies have recently joined digital innovation consortia with a wide participation of institutions. In particular, through the participation in the Attica region’s Digital Innovation Hub consortium, HCAP plans to contribute to “test before invest” activities for innovative digital solutions.

Furthermore, large enterprises in HCAP’s portfolio have joined an initiative to establish a Competence Centre aimed to provide specialized innovation and technology transfer services in the field of Energy, in collaboration with the main stakeholders from the academic community and the private sector.

Ms Ekaterinari underlines that: “The cooperation, the acceleration of innovation-enabling actions and the extroversion of our companies is our primary concern and our related initiatives, including the innovation competition series “HCAP Innovation Challenge”, aim at reinforcing the integration of innovation by of our portfolio companies”