Say you're a smart grid startup, competing in a crowded field to get your product picked up by the notoriously stodgy utility industry. What do you do?
If you're Greenbox Technology, you put an industry insider at the helm. The San Bruno, Calif.-based maker of web-based software to monitor and manage home energy usage announced Thursday that it has picked Ivo Steklac, a 20-year veteran of such metering giants as Elster and Schlumberger, as its new CEO.
It's a growing trend for smart grid startups. In March, Trilliant, the Redwood City, Calif.-based maker of smart meter communications networking systems, hired General Electric veteran Andrew White as CEO. White's 30 years with GE included work on power grid construction, energy services, nuclear energy and most recently venture capital investment as head of GE's New Energy Ventures (see Trilliant Lands GE Vet as CEO).
And in May, smart grid software developer GridPoint hired Michael Carlson, the CIO of utility Xcel Energy, as an executive. GridPoint is one of the partners in Xcel's SmartGridCity project, a test bed for integrating a variety of smart grid technologies (see Green Light post).
It makes a lot of sense. Startups like Greenbox – founded by Flash co-creator Jon Gay and former Macromedia engineering vice president Peter Santangeli – may be used to the fast-moving high tech space. But that doesn't necessarily make them a cozy fit with the utility industry's well-noted tendency for conservative decision-making and preference for well-tested technologies.
As John Quealy, managing director of equity research with Canaccord Adams, put it regarding Carlson's move to GridPoint, hiring an insider can "help technology firms strategize for a regulatory-driven marketplace."
Having the inside track could help Greenbox land more pilots like the one it did last year with Oklahoma Gas and Electric and smart grid networking startup Silver Spring Networks, to test their combined abilities to track and present power usage for homeowners and apartment dwellers.
They can also help startups engineer acquisitions and mergers, such as Trilliant's purchase of SkyPilot, a maker of long-range, WiFi-based wireless mesh communications technology, last month (see Trilliant Joins SkyPilot for End-to-End Smart Grid Communications).
Given that utilities are likely to seek out integrated solutions for their smart grid needs, industry watchers expect consolidation to grow as a strategy to get into (see Tendril Lands $30M as Growth, Consolidation Loom in Smart Grid and Acquisitions in Smart Grid: Get Used to It).
Steklac wasn't available for interviews regarding his move to Greenbox, but the company's press release noted that his hiring comes as the startup is expanding its partnerships with utilities and the host of companies - "demand response providers, AMI vendors, meter data management firms, device manufacturers, and system integrators" – that make up an integrated smart grid.
Steklac comes to Greenbox from Elster, where he headed the German company's smart grid business as global vice president. Before that, he was a founder of smart meter consulting firm Enspiria Solutions.
Prior to that, he worked at oil and gas industry technology systems giant Schlumberger, where he helped utility Puget Sound Energy win an award from utility trade group Edison Institute for one of the first programs at the nation to give consumers energy consumption data linked with time-of-use pricing.