What is the Free Electrons Accelerator Programme?

Free Electrons is the global energy startup accelerator program that connects the world's most promising startups with leading utility companies. 

Hendrick Steiner of New Energy Nexus presenting to start-ups as part of the Free Electrons Programme
Hendrick ​Tiesinga explains the Free Electrons Programme to the Silicon Valley to an audiences of start-ups, investors and utility companies.​

The mission of Free Electrons is simple, to connect the world’s most promising energy start-ups with globally recognised utility companies and the global investor community. According to the  Free Electrons mission statement:

“We envision a future where smart, clean and accessible energy will transform every aspect of our lives”

The aim of the programme is to recruit and support the next generation of ideas in clean energy, energy efficiency, electric mobility and on-demand customer services.

How does the programme work?

Eight energy companies, including ESB, have come together to identify the next great idea in energy. Each of the eight utility partners reached out to start-ups recruiting for the programme in January 2016.

For an overview of the free electrons programme visit this link. (http://freelectrons.co/program/)


From ​450 applications,​ 12 start-ups were chosen. The combined market value of the utilities is in excess of 148 Million USD and spans 40 countries, this means that the start-ups have unprecedented access to this market and the vast pool of talent in the utility companies.

The​ eight energy companies include ESB and

  • AusNet Services,
  • Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA),
  • EDP (Energias de Portugal),
  • innogy,
  • Origin Energy,
  • Singapore Power (SP) and
  • Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO)

With the support of start-up accelerator partners

  • New Energy Nexus
  • Swissnex (San Francisco)
  • Energy Excelerator
  • Powerhouse
  • Beta-i.

Benefits of the Free Electrons Programme for Start-ups

The Free Electrons accelerator programme is the only programme that connects energy start-ups directly with utilities and other investors. 

  • Successful programme finalists are taken on an international expedition to develop critical skills in pitching, product development,. These take place over 3 customer adoption modules in Silicon Valley, Dublin/Lisbon and Singapore.
  • As well as the expedition, each start-up benefits from the wealth of insight garnered from direct access and mentoring of utility company executives and customers.
  • Finally, the finalists are afforded two opportunities to win cash prizes of $25,000 and $175,000 in Dublin and Singapore.  

Free Electrons News and Updates

Meet the Judges at the ESB Pitch Off

A team of global venture capitalists and energy experts make up the panel of judges at the ESB Free Electrons Pitch Off which takes place on Friday 30th June in Dublin. The company with the best pitch wins a $25,000 prize fund.

Gina Domanig - Managing Partner, Emerald Technologies, Switzerland

Gina Domanig is the Managing Partner of Emerald Technology Ventures. In 2000 she founded Emerald as the first independent cleantech venture capital fund in Europe. Gina currently serves on the boards of Elcomax, Powerhouse Dynamics and Ublox. Her previous directorships include SDC Materials, TaKaDu, GeoDigital. Agraquest and inge watertechnologies. Gina has over 25 years of international business experience including banking, M&A, strategic development, and venture capital. Prior to starting Emerald, she was senior vice president at Sulzer, a Swiss multinational, responsible for strategic planning and M&A.

Rene Savelsberg - Co-founder and Managing Director of SET Ventures, The Netherlands

Rene Savelsberg is the co-founder, CEO and Managing Director of SET Ventures since its creation in 2007. He is responsible for the strategy and overall operations of the SET Funds. He serves on the Board of MicroShade and Sonnen and is observer on the Board of General Fusion. He also served on the Board of Epyon which was acquired by ABB in June 2011 and AlertMe which was acquired by British Gas in 2015.

Rene also served on the Board of Sefaira which was bought by Trimble in 2016. Between 1997 and 2004 Rene led the Philips Corporate Venturing activities, initially in Silicon Valley and later expanding into Europe and Israel, managing investments in over 40 companies, including some highly successful investments; TiVo, Magic4 and Cambridge Silicon Radio. After Philips decided to depart from its corporate VC involvement Rene successfully divested the portfolio by the end of 2004. In the meantime, he joined Philips’ Corporate M&A department where he was also responsible for semiconductor-related transactions and was instrumental in the € 6.4 billion divestment of the Philips Semiconductor Division, now called NXP.

Arne Morteani - Partner, EFT Partners, United Kingdom

Arne is a General Partner at ETF Partners. He invests in innovative European growth companies that enable the big themes of Smart Industry, Smart Cities and Smart Energy. He is currently on the boards of ETF’s portfolio firms E-Leather, Voltea, Perpetuum, and Greenbird. Arne’s background combines his interests in both business and technology; Prior to joining ETF Partners in 2007, Arne was a consultant at The Boston Consulting Group and prior to that he was a Research Fellow at Cambridge University developing novel organic solar cells. He is a co-founder of the Cambridge Tech Ventures Conference and the European Venture Capital Network. Arne was a Gates Scholar and holds a PhD in Physics from Cambridge University, a Diploma from Munich University, and a Masters in Finance from the London Business School.

Luís Manuel - Executive Board Member, EDP INOVAÇÃO, Portugal

Executive Director of EDP Inovação since 2008; responsible for EDP Ventures (corporate VC) and EDP Starter (business incubation program). Board member of EDP Inovação, EDP Ventures, EDP Mop, Vertequip, Arquiled, EIDT, Feedzai, Egg Electronics and Principle Power. Previously, he worked at Explorer Investments (Portuguese private equity fund manager) and at Galp Energia in Strategy and Business Portfolio department. He also worked in Espírito Santo Investment in the Project Finance and Corporate Finance Advisory divisions in Portugal and Brazil. Member of the Cabinet of the Secretary of State of Economic Development and Innovation during the XVI Portuguese Constitutional Government. He is also a member of the board of the Portuguese Electric Vehicles Association (APVE). Luís has a degree in Economics from Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

Stefan Padberg - Managing Director, innogy New Ventures LLC, Germany

Stefan is a Silicon Valley based thought leader, strategist, manager and change agent in the energy markets. He started his career by successfully applying pragmatic best practice solutions to complex change processes within RWE Group, one of the biggest fully integrated Energy companies in Europe. Being part of a changing industry that is heavily disrupted and requires significant change motivated Stefan, who designed and implemented international organizational change strategies. He succeeded to deliver innovative technology improvement projects as well as large scale staff and cost reductions in his past roles. The move to Silicon Valley and his appointment as Managing Director of innogy New Ventures LLC was a result of his outstanding experience in creating market-ready products and services through scalable, repeatable, and metrics driven agile processes. In this position Stefan is highly fluent at communicating the company’s new vision to the Silicon Valley ecosystem and far beyond.

Paul Mulvaney - Executive Director, Innovation, ESB, Ireland

Paul Mulvaney was appointed Executive Director Innovation in October 2014. Paul joined ESB in 1985 and has held a number of senior management positions including Manager Great Island and Moneypoint Generation Stations, Group Manager Coal/Oil/Gas Stations, Asset Manager Power Generation and Programme Manager Corporate Change. He was appointed Managing Director of ecars in 2009 and Head of Distribution and Customer Service, ESB Networks Ltd. in 2012. Paul holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering and completed the Advanced Management Programme at the IESE Business School in the University of Navarra.

 Free Electrons

Irish energy start-up companies are encouraged to apply for a placein an exciting new global initiative, spearheaded by ESB and aconsortium of worldwide utilities and accelerators.  

The aim of the Free Electrons global accelerator programme is torecruit 12 energy start-ups to help drive the next generation of ideasin clean energy, energy efficiency, electric mobility and on-demandcustomer services.

ESB and the consortium of utility companies will support thestart-ups to refine their products and services, with the potential oftesting and developing them for a global customer base.  Collectively,the nine utility companies have a combined market base of 73 millioncustomers located in more than 40 countries.
Interested energy start-ups must have a working prototype to apply,with the winning companies partaking in three week-long ‘customeradoption’ modules in Silicon Valley, Lisbon/Dublin and Singapore over asix month period.

Speaking about ESB’s role in this programme, Paul Mulvaney, ExecutiveDirector of Innovation with ESB, commented:  “We are excited about theprospect of working with a pool of start-ups from across the world,learning from them, providing them with insights to the energy industryand offering them the opportunity to trial and develop theirproducts/services in Ireland and the UK. At ESB we are very focused onbringing new cutting edge solutions to our customer base and lookforward to hosting the start-ups in Dublin later in 2017.”

The deadline for interested applicants is 28 February 2017 with thewinners announced in April. For further information and to apply visit www.freelectrons.co