The need to find and invest in new technologies that will benefit a company – and eventually the wider industry – is undeniable. Who wouldn’t want to have access to game-changing innovation taking place right under their noses?

Attending the Offshore Northern Seas (ONS) event in Norway is always an eye-opening experience, aside from the breathtaking scenery that surrounds this beautiful part of the world. Equally eye-opening, however, is the sheer number of emerging companies with technological solutions that are truly inspiring.

As always, the offshore industry never wants for a lack of ideas – what it often does lack is the conviction and funding to develop these to a point where they go beyond “nice to have” to become “must have.” The industry does have several well established research programs around the world doing outstanding work.

But it often takes one company bold enough to take the next step and sink its own seed money into emerging ventures to make a difference. It does this in the belief that enough of them will come to fruition to be of commercial benefit to its future operations.

As we’re in Norway, there are no prizes for guessing the flag I’m going to wave here – it’s Statoil’s. The operator’s Statoil Technology Invest (STI) organization announced at ONS that it is investing a total of NOK 150 million (US $26 million) of venture capital in early-stage technology companies. STI engages in projects, mostly with entrepreneurs, to help new and emerging technologies reach the market, with a particular focus on the development and commercialization phases of new technology This includes detailed product development, prototyping, testing and verification, and market planning.

The last five years have seen the fund invest NOK 800 million (US $140 million) in young companies to develop technology that can create value in its operations. The proof of the pudding is, of course, in the eating – in 14 of the companies where Statoil has an ownership stake, it has made or plans to make direct use of the technology in its operations and projects. That is a superb return on a relatively small investment when the benefits are scaled up internationally for the company.

“We make investments and help develop companies at an early stage to mature technology that we in Statoil and other players need to solve our future challenges,” said Statoil’s Siri Espedal Kindem, senior vice president of Technology, at ONS. “The companies are assisted in building and commercializing their technology, and they gain from developing and piloting their technology in cooperation with us.” The help includes not only funding but, often crucially, technical expertise, helping define end-user requirements and technology qualification and committing to being the first user of a technology.

The Norwegian company has a very real commercial reason for doing this. It aims to produce more than 2.5 MMboe/d by 2020, and its strategy has identified four areas as vital for achieving this: seismic imaging, IOR and reservoir characterization, subsea technology, and drilling and well technology.

In its current venture portfolio, approximately 70% of the technologies have been commercially procured by Statoil. In its past portfolio, four companies have been listed, several have been merged with larger service providers, and some have developed into independent companies.

Who said that venture capital was a risky business? Not judging by Statoil’s track record…

Who wouldn’t want to have access to game-changing innovation taking place right under their noses?