Enel, SAP and Telefónica are the Open Innovation Champions in Europe

Corporate Startup Stars Awards 2019

For the fourth year running, startups across Europe have nominated the most active corporates in terms of open innovation as part of the Corporate Startup Stars Awards. Enel has secured the top position, followed by SAP and Telefónica according to the new ranking unveiled today during the SEP Scaleup Summit organized by Mind the Bridge at the Bolsa de Madrid.


Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars annual ranking is produced by the innovation advisory firm Mind the Bridge and innovation foundation Nesta under the European Commission’s Startup Europe Partnership initiative. 36 European companies have been awarded in total: 12 as Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars and 24 as Europe’s Open Innovation Challengers.


Along with Enel, SAP and Telefónica, companies awarded as among the Top 12 SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars in 2019 are: AB InBev, BBVA, Bosch, Daimler, Iberdrola, Mastercard, Samsung Electronics, Shell, and Sodexo.


The 24 companies awarded as “Open Innovation Challengers” are: ACCIONA, Amadeus, Banco Sabadell, Barclays Bank, BP, Bridgestone, Centrica, Cisco, EDP, Enagás, Eneco, Ferrovial, FIEGE Logistics, Google for Startups, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, KBC, KPN, Nestlé, Orange, Pearson, Pfizer, Rabobank, Thomson Reuters, and Vodafone.


16 other companies also received special awards for various different categories.These special awards don’t provide a ranking, but aim at signaling approaches and best practices that deserve to be recognised.


Enel, Iberdrola, and Vodafone received the “Corporate Startup Procurement Award” for 2019, while the “Corporate Startup M&A Award” went to KPN, SAP, and Sodexo.


Daimler, Orange, Telefónica have been recognised with the “Corporate Startup Accelerator Award”; Bosch, Cisco, and Samsung Electronics with the “Corporate Startup Investment Award”;


ACCIONA (novel approach mixing Acceleration and Procurement), Enagás (intrapreneurship approach), and UnipolSai (diversifying into mobility through POCs with startup and acquisitions ) with the “Innovative Programme Award”; BP with the “Best New Entrant Award” (reserved to the best first-time applicant).


The organizers also gave a special mention to Transport for London (TfL) for Public Sector Innovation, to recognise the efforts of public entities moving into the open innovation space. This will be institutionalized as an official Award category starting next year.


Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth commented:


A sustainable ecosystem of innovation in Europe requires both startups able to grow dimensionally and internationally and established corporates capable to innovate. Then corporate-startup collaboration might benefit both sides. That’s why initiative such as SEP Europe’s Corporate Startup Stars are important to showcase best practices and role models.”


Alberto Onetti, Chairman of Mind the Bridge and Coordinator of Startup Europe Partnership (SEP), said:

“Open innovation is finally taking off in Europe. We see more and more companies active in corporate venturing. However, it is hard to get it right. We believe that the companies doing this well should be recognised as trailblazers, and hope that they inspire others to follow suit. That’s why we gather data annually to identify and signal best practices.”


Christopher Haley, Head of New Technology & Startup Research at Nesta, said:

“Collaboration with startups and scaleups is an important mode of open innovation, and it is great to see more organisations recognising the value that it can bring. We hope that these awards encourage other organisations to think about new ways of innovating, to help drive productivity and growth across Europe.”



The Research


During the award ceremony, Mind the Bridge and Nesta have unveiled new research titled “The Status of Open Innovation in Europe”. This report leverages the data gathered by all the companies applying to the Corporate Startup Stars and provides an in-depth analysis of how innovation leaders are evolving the way to work with startups. Specifically, the research profiles the approaches to open innovation by assessing both “internal” conditions (strategy, organization, processes, culture) and “external” outcomes (actions and results).


4 “types” of approaches/profiles clearly emerge (as summarized by the MTB Open Innovation Readiness Matrix):

  • CORPORATE STARTUP STARS: strategically structured companies that produce concrete results in terms of collaboration with startups (partnerships, investments, acquisitions).
  • Open Innovation CHALLENGERS: companies that are prepared internally to work with startups and are in the process of producing results.
  • Open Innovation TRAILBLAZERS: companies that have already started open innovation actions but do not yet have dedicated internal plans and structures
  • Open Innovation NEWCOMERS: companies that have just initiated open innovation activities with startups and therefore do not yet have dedicated internal units or strategies.

The path to Corporate Startup Stars

By observing their evolution, the research identified some trends in the paths that companies typically follow over time to develop and implement their open innovation strategies and actions. Typically, well-performing companies start as Open Innovation Newcomers (bottom-left quadrant), then become Open Innovation Challengers (upper-left quadrant), before they transition to a Corporate Startup Star (upper-right quadrant). This indicates that having strong internal innovation strategies and processes may be a necessary precondition for designing and executing effective external open innovation actions over time.

Anatomy of a Corporate Startup Star

Organisational Structures

  • Nearly all (97%) CSS typically have a dedicated open innovation unit, for example in the form of an innovation centre, department or hub, separate from the “traditional” research and development department.
  • 44% of the CSS founded their innovation unit over 5 years ago, demonstrating a longer-term innovation focus.
  • 89% of open innovation units report to a C-level executive, mostly a Chief Innovation Officer (CIO) or a Chief Digital Officer (CDO).
  • 67% of terms used to describe this new senior executive role  include the word “Innovation” or its variations (such as “Innovability”), while 17% include the world “Digital”.Processes
  • 86% of Corporate Startup Stars have an established process for innovation activities that is known and used across the organisation.
  • 89% of these have dedicated key performance indicators (KPIs) for innovation activities, 86% with a clear roadmap, 94% include innovation outcomes in their incentive programmes
  • 83% of CSS say they provide dedicated and applicable training for innovation, for example through internal entrepreneurship programmes, 75% offer entrepreneurial education to foster intrapreneurship inside the company.


  • 83% have a widespread innovation culture throughout the various company levels, not impeded by the “not invented here” syndrome.
  • 92% tolerate failure through discussion/learning.
  • 64% are comfortable with starting new projects that have some level of risk, 11% with high levels of risk projects; only 3% consider low risk projects.


Corporate Startup Stars tend to offer a mix of programmes, creating significant value for startups and their wider ecosystems — in Europe and globally:


Exposure & Scouting

  • Nearly 95% organise competitions (like hackathons or challenges), 86%  offer free resources like mentoring or access to software/hardware, and 67% have co-working spaces or offer other services to host startups on their premises.
  • 90% of CSS have a structured scouting process in place through which they filter numerous startups to engage with: annually they shortlist from 10 to 50 startups, typically from hundreds of startups. A subset of these might then enter into commercial agreements.

Trend Spotting

  • 64% of CSS have structured innovation outposts in global tech hubs with one or multiple people in place, or are at least regularly visit them (19%). 11% don’t have any, 6% are planning to visit.
  • 70% have or are planning to have a presence in Silicon Valley; 61% in Israel and nearly 28% in Singapore but overall, corporates are starting to move beyond these hotspots.




  • 70% of CSS have a corporate accelerator programme: 60% of them use a combination of in-house and third-party accelerators (up from 36% in last year’s ranking), 40% use in-house accelerators only (it was 52% last year);
  • 11% participate exclusively in third-party managed programmes like Techstars and Startup Bootcamp, and 19% have no accelerator activities at all.
  • 21% of CSS in-house accelerator hosted more than 50 European startups in 2018, 17% accelerated between 26-50, 62% accelerated 25 or less.


  • Nearly all Corporate Startup Stars (94%) undertook innovative procurement from startups in 2018: of these, around half procured from more than 10 startups (53%).
  • 50% spent €5M or less on startup procurement in the past three years, 32% spent more than €25M.
  • They aim to pay startup suppliers within three months. Other startup-friendly interventions include advance billing, simplified templates, and simplified criteria for startups. 




  • 78% of CSS report having a dedicated Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) unit to invest in startups; 16% did still invest directly in European startups in 2018 (without CVC unit), 6% did not invest at all. 
  • 64% of investing CSS poured capital in between 1-5 startups, with the remaining firms investing in 6 or more startups. They typically (62%)  invested €1-10M, 1 in 3 invested more than €10M, only 4% less than €1M.




  • 64% of CSS report they have acquired at least one startup in the past, 33% more than 1 per year.
  • Typically they spend more than €50M on startup acquisitions (57%), 24% spend between €10-50M and 19% spend less than €10M.