Public Utility Company Exelon Shows Other Sectors and Firms How to Be Innovative

Exelon is a Chicago-based public utility—a traditional, conservative firm. But by some of the moves taking place lately under CEO Christopher Crane—including a new “intrapreneurship” initiative and a flirtation with entrepreneurs known as “Dancing with the Startups”—Exelon seems to be charting a course of reinvention that is unusual for such an old-line concern. And chiefs in other traditional verticals might want to take notice.

Earlier this month, for instance, a few teams of Exelon employees got the opportunity to pitch their ideas for new processes, services and products to executives at the company for the right to get selected as one of four winning intrapreneurs. Exelon will give each of the winners seed funding to “try out their idea and to get to a minimum viable product to see if we can get it to the next phase,” Brian Hoff, director of emerging technology told CEO Briefing.

“Employees have good ideas that aren’t always making it to the executives or getting into our long-range plans,” Hoff said. “There’s a sort of pent-up supply of these ideas.”

Initially, Exelon designed a program to see whether it could build an effective model for transforming promising internal notions into business results. Once the concept was proved they threw the doors open to “crowdsourcing” of new ideas by any of Exelon’s 30,000 employees. “We said, ‘We want to hear from you. What are your ideas?’” Hoff said.

“Employees have good ideas that aren’t always making it to the executives. “There’s a sort of pent-up supply of these ideas.”

Exelon got about 300 ideas from employees and then a team selected those that aligned best with the utility’s strategic priorities.

In addition, two years ago Exelon launched a program called “Dancing with the Startups,” along with the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition’s Corporate Startup Challenge. Under the initiative, Exelon sponsors various ways to foster relationships with startups, venture capitalists and the local university community. It offers prize money for contests for the best ideas and business models and has brought some of the entrepreneurs into the company “to try out their products and technologies,” Hoff said.

“If we think there’s an investment opportunity, we have an investment arm, and after we’ve piloted something and seen that it has value, we can make an equity investment,” he said. Or sometimes there’s a good fit within Exelon. Or maybe the startup is more interested in strategic advice than cash.”

Among the Chicago-area companies with which Exelon has formed relationships are ADMCi, a design thinking school, and AKTA, a UX mobile-development company which has become an Inc. 500 leader.

Exelon is just one example of dozens of major and mid-market companies trying to uncover transformative technologies and ideas and the talent behind them, and attempt to harness some to benefit their businesses instead of allowing the possibility that such potential disrupters could weaken them in the fast-changing business environment.

And if a utility that was founded more than a century ago can tack toward reinvention in that way, most other companies can as well.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    We are in a period of rapid change. Customer needs, technologies, competitors and internal capabilities require companies to review and update their strategies for the new realities. In this workshop, strategy experts Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison will show you a systematic approach to strategic planning to help you refine or redefine your business strategy and approach including:

    • Learn what you need to know to develop an effective strategic plan. Put the right players on the strategic planning team.
    • Develop strategies that leverage your company’s unique position in the marketplace. Lift your management team beyond “business as usual” thought processes and activities.
    • Translate your strategies into action. Achieve your vision for success and generate superior financial results.
    • Identify exactly what you need to do now to position your company for future success.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.