June 23, 2020

Corporate innovation weekly: the rise of hydrogen

This is what Europe's biggest companies have been investing in: solid-state batteries, hydrogen fuel, no code robots and quantum computing.

Maija Palmer

5 min read

Photo by form PxHere


Battery breakthroughs

Volkswagen invested a further $200m into QuantumScape, a US startup developing solid-state batteries. Volkswagen had already invested $100m in the company, and owned a 5% stake, but is now making a bigger bet in the technology which promises to last longer and charge faster than the current generation of batteries.

Solid-state batteries are more expensive than current lithium-ion ones, but Volkswagen and QuantumScope have plans to set up a pilot factory to investigate how to ramp up industrial-scale production.

Meanwhile, researchers at Brown University have discovered a way to use graphene to increase the toughness of solid-state batteries.




Enel, Europe’s largest utility, is set to launch a hydrogen business next year. The move comes just as Germany earmarked €9bn to expand its hydrogen capacity and the EU is expected this week to launch a hydrogen strategy with aims to turn this into a €140bn industry by 2030. There is a good summary of the state of play in this Petroleum Economist article.

Financial services


Santander InnoVentures led the $40m Series D funding round into Upgrade Inc, the US mobile bank. 

SME insurance

Spanish insurer Mutua Madrileña and Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures, corporate venture capital of Liberty Mutual Insurance, took part in the €4.47m Series A funding round for SingularCover, a startup offering personalised insurance for small businesses and freelancers.


Swallowed up

Not all healthcare startups are booming. Proteus Digital Health, whose investors include Novartis Venture Fund, filed for bankruptcy. The startup makes pills with sensors that can monitor whether patients have taken them or not.

“Medication adherence” — i.e. getting patients to take pills as prescribed — is a huge problem in medicine. But it seems Proteus’ solution was expensive and patients didn’t react well to the idea of swallowing monitoring devices.

Diabetes hope

Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund was one of the investors in the $4.5m seed funding round for DiogenX, a French biotech company developing a drug that could potentially regenerate insulin-producing pancreatic beta cells in type-1 diabetics.

It is one of many approaches being pushed forward to help manage the disease better. We recently wrote about a nanofibre “teabag” that could be used to implant pancreatic cells in diabetic patients.

mRNA vaccines

Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund was also an investor in Belgian biotech eTheRNA, which is developing a vaccine for Covid-19 and recently picked up a €34m Series B funding round. The company uses messenger RNA to develop the vaccine, an approach that is emerging as a front-runner in the race to develop a vaccine for the novel coronavirus.

IPO glut

Healthtech initial public offerings are still going strong. Repare Therapeutics, a precision oncology company backed by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Celgene, and  Forma Therapeutics, a Novartis and Eli Lilly-backed company developing therapeutics to treat rare hematologic diseases and cancers both launched successful IPOs.


C4 Therapeutics, which is backed by Roche, Novartis and Kraft Group, raised $170m to start human testing for its treatments that use cells’ own natural recycling mechanisms to combat diseases.


Social listening

BNP Paribas Développement was one of the investors putting in a total of $9m into Linkfluence, the French social media listening company. Linkfluence uses natural language processing and image recognition to monitor consumer responses to brands.




Swedish music sampling service Tracklib has raised $4.5m from investors including the Sony Innovation Fund. Artists who have used Tracklib’s 100,000+ catalogue of sample-friendly music to create their songs include Lil Wayne, DJ Khaled, Phantogram, Mary J. Blige and J. Cole.

Quantum computing

Suspended ions

IonQ, the quantum computing startup, extended its Series B  funding round with an additional $7m, bringing the total invested in the company to $84m. Lockheed Martin and Robert Bosch Venture Capital were among the new investors.

IonQ is developing a version of quantum computing based on ions suspended in a vacuum by electromagnets. Many of the other quantum computing projects have gone for superconducting qubits that need to be cooled to near absolute zero, but IonQ’s trapped ion technology has the advantage it can run at room temperature.

Bosch and Lockheed Martin have both made a number of investments in quantum computing. Bosch invested in quantum software company Zapata last year.

Real estate

Haus sales

Purplebricks and Axel Springer were among investors putting a further €40m into Homeday, the German real estate broker. 


No code needed

Microsoft’s M12 and Siemens' Next47 investment arm took part in the $30m Series B funding round for Wandelbots, the German robotics startup that allows industrial robots to be taught tasks without the need to write code.

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing demand for robots to surge, and the cost of robots has been coming down dramatically over the past decade. However, the time and effort needed for coding robots has still put them out of reach for many users. A no-code robot could pave the way for much broader adoption.

Spatial awareness

SLAMcore, a UK startup developing spatial awareness algorithms for robots and drones, raised $5m from investors including Toyota AI Ventures.


Attacking the attackers

Red Eléctrica de España, which runs the national grid in Spain, was one of the investors in the $5m funding round for CounterCraft, a US-based cybersecurity company that turns the tables and counterattacks cyber attackers.

Who's hiring?

Kristin Aamodt is leaving Equinor Technology Ventures

Nerida Scott has been appointed Johnson & Johnson’s new head of innovation for EMEA, based in London

Innovation manager, a growing fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) business specialising in the petcare sector, Hertfordshire, UK

Director of consulting – Global Hybrid Agency, London, UK

VP strategy, Huge (agency), London, UK

Strategy director, R/GA, Berlin, Germany

Strategic business developer, New Solutions & Propositions, Vattenfall (energy), Stockholm, Sweden

Director of AI, Nordic countries, Huawei, Stockholm, Sweden

Good reads:

The new ways to eat

A fascinating look at how the way we cook and eat is changing by Fast Company. A  huge number of new terms will have to be coined for this. Welcome to edu-cooking and the groceraunt.

Innovation no longer a priority

Research from McKinsey suggests that innovation is indeed drying up at companies as other priorities take up executive brainspace. Focus on innovation is down in every industry except for healthcare.

McKinsey chart showing innovation spending