GE taps open innovation in China

30 September 2011

BEIJING: General Electric, the conglomerate, is using open innovation as a way to source ideas capable of boosting sales and solving major energy problems in China.

The organisation has announced a competition in the world's most populous nation, promising $100m in resources to back third party firms and individuals providing solutions to changing energy needs.

Its latest initiative features indigenous partners like Citic Capital and Sequoia Capital China, with the winning entrants potentially working in GE's local R&D centre, being handed funding or receiving an equity investment.

Such a scheme falls within a broader international programme, operating under the "Ecomagination" banner, which has seen GE attempt to foster pioneering technologies in this field.

"China is a key part of our energy strategy," Jeffrey Immelt, GE's chief executive, said, adding that the company has "great aspirations" in the fast-growing Asian economy.

He continued: "What you are going to see here is China wants what most other countries want, which is fuel diversity, energy security, pollution reduction and conservation."

Immelt also predicted General Electric's revenues from the energy sector in China would rise by between 25% and 30% a year "as time goes on", aided by evolving population trends and infrastructure development.

"We very much believe that we are never going to invent everything inside the company, and that we need to have the spirit of open innovation to be as good a technical company as we want to be," he said.

"What China brings is scale," said Immelt. "Small ideas become big applications very quickly in this country. I expect new gas innovations done in scale within the next three to five years. That's going to happen here."

Among GE's main partners in China are the State Grid, the Shenhua Group and Harbin Power, some of the biggest players across the domestic energy industry. Such powerful allies can be vital in rapidly moving proposals into action.

General Electric secured revenues of $5bn in China in 2010, a figure it hopes will double during the coming three years.

Data sourced from Business Week/Wall Street Journal; additional content by Warc staff