Veolia Environnement, the massive French energy and water company, is looking to make cleantech connections. At the Cleantech Group’s conference on Thursday, the 150-year-old company with some 330,000 employees launched its Veolia Innovation Accelerator program, which it plans to use to develop partnerships with cleantech startups and investors. The company’s stated goals for the program are a little fluffy, explained in a release as a way to “facilitate exchanges, stimulate cooperation, and unite good ideas between start-up companies and corporate organizations with the appropriate resources, partners and outlets.”
But the underlying nature of the program could help Veolia get at the front of innovation if it partners with the right companies. Veolia says it’s exploring ways to partner with startups, including co-developing technology, licensing and creating joint offerings. It’s not uncommon for large companies that play across many sectors to reach out to small, innovative startups that are working on innovations in very specific niches. Software company Autodesk (s ADSK), for example, created a program called the “Clean Tech Partner Program” through which it gave away free software to the most promising early-stage cleantech startups. IT firms looking at the smart grid market, meanwhile, like Cisco (s CSCO) and IBM (s IBM), have partnership programs to help bring smaller innovators into large utility deals.
While Autodesk is focused on cleantech firms that are using IT and software, Veolia is looking harder at the hardcore science of energy and water. Veolia says specifically that it’s looking for partners in “bio resources, drinking water, waste water, waste sorting,
recycling and recovery, sustainable and green cities, energy generation, transportation, health and environmental performance, carbon capture and storage (CCS), and energy storage.”
For the startups that will be involved in Veolia’s program, there’s always the remote possibility that Veolia could offer an exit. Earlier this month Veolia’s North American energy subsidiary, Veolia Energy North America, announced that it had acquired a district cooling system that uses ice to lower the cost of cooling buildings from Baltimore-based Comfort Link. But for a startup, even gaining access to Veolia’s massive customer list would be a benefit.