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Collaborating in Research and Education

Free Electrons has been the focus of a large-scale research project led by Steve Comello (Stanford Graduate School of Business) and Ann-Kristin Zobel (formerly ETH Zurich, now University of St.Gallen) for several years.

Now – in addition to providing a rich set of insights at the intersection of open innovation and the energy industry – Free Electrons has also entered the academic teaching world.

On April 28th, John McKiernan – Head of Innovation Pipeline at ESB and founding member of Free Electrons – and Ann-Kristin Zobel – Associate Professor of Management at the University of St.Gallen – co-hosted an online session on ‘Transforming the Energy Sector through Open Innovation – in the ‘Strategy and International Management’ (SIM) Master’s Program of the University of St. Gallen.

SIM is the flagship program of the University of St.Gallen and has been ranked number 1 overall worldwide for nine consecutive years in the “Financial Times” Global Masters in Management Ranking. In the course titled “Exploring Sustainability as Strategic Opportunity”, students learn about strategic management concepts and frameworks that can help to unlock new value as economies strive for decarbonization and sustainability. One of the focus areas is the energy transition and its potential acceleration via open innovation practices.

What could serve as a better case study in this course than Free Electrons? John’s guest lecture provided insights into the key strategic questions of Free Electrons: Why did the founding utilities decide to build it? How does it work? And what are the results? Subsequently, the 28 students of the class discussed and compared Free Electrons with other open innovation strategies in the energy sector and deliberated its potential to accelerate the energy transition.

“Having John McKiernan as a guest speaker in my course was an invaluable experience for my students who benefited from first-hand insights by one of the founding members of Free Electrons – a unique open innovation program that connects start-ups with global energy utilities. Free Electrons offers a density of learning opportunities when it comes to understanding the design and implementation of multi-party collaborations. It provides an inspiring and rich setting for students to discuss the relevance of open innovation for co-creating the future of the energy sector. John’s lecture really sparked the students’ interest in the energy sector and its ongoing transformation via open innovation.”

Ann-Kristin Zobel, Associate Professor of Management, University of St. Gallen

“It was a great honor to be invited by Prof. Zobel as a guest lecturer to address the prestigious Strategy and International Management Master’s class at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. It’s both the intention of ESB and the Free Electrons program to relentlessly pursue our goal of leadership in clean energy innovation despite the formidable challenges posed by the Covid19 pandemic. It was thus heartening to connect with the strategic minds of the next generation of leaders who are already energized and focused on developing solutions for a better way of life for society.”

John McKiernan, Head of Innovation Pipeline, ESB