\Corporate Innovation News/

New incubator to turn jobless energy workers into entrepreneurs

A wave of redundancies in the oil and gas sector could turn into a wave of new startups.

By Maija Palmer

A huge wave of redundancies is heading for the energy sector, as companies cut back on staffing levels in the face of low oil prices. BP is cutting 10,000 jobs, or around 15% of its global workforce. Centrica is cutting 5,000 jobs, while OVO Energy announced 2,600 job cuts.

Rosa Stewart, a UK-based energy project finance lawyer, however, is hoping to turn the wave of redundancies into a wave of new clean energy startups through a not-for-profit initiative that would help job leavers become startup founders.

Nokia created hundreds of startups ten years ago through its Bridge programme. Could the energy sector do the same?

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“All the energy companies are decarbonising and have net-zero targets but no idea how to reach them. Now we have all these energy experts becoming available who could work on the problem,” she says.

Stewart set up a project called Spinning Reserve (named after the energy industry term for the spare capacity that energy operators need to build into their systems), which aims to match energy sector experts either with existing clean energy startups or with potential co-founders interested in forming a new company together.

“It is a pre-school incubator, helping people get started, putting them in teams, making their own startups, getting them ready to join an incubator,” says Stewart, a contractor with SSE Energy who has found her own work outlook uncertain as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Set up just two months ago, following a LinkedIn post that went viral, Spinning Reserve is run by a team of 10 volunteers from the energy sector and has a growing listed of people uploading their details. Stewart is already collaborating with 60 or so low carbon incubator programmes, and 20 smaller clean energy companies, but would like to see more big oil companies come on board to support the initiative.

Getting big companies to back employee spinouts rather than simply making job cuts was an idea put forward in a recent Future Proof article by Chris Locke, chief executive at Rainmaking. Nokia ran a successful programme like this ten years ago when it shed 40,000 jobs. Employees who had been made redundant were able to get €10,000 in backing for a new business idea, a scheme that created some 300 new startups and transformed the Finnish startup ecosystem.

Stewart, a Finn, says she was inspired by the Nokia example and wanted to create something similar for the energy sector.

She says energy companies would benefit from the creation of specialist startups working on the clean energy problem. Many of these could become future collaborators to partner with.

“It is better than calling in a consultant, why not get people who already know the industry and even teams that have already worked together?” she says.

Spinning Reserve is looking for individuals with energy sector experience and for businesses interested in supporting the programme. Find out how to get involved here.

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