Seeking startup partnerships and sustainable technologies at Saint-Gobain

By Kelsey Alpaio, Staff Writer

More than 350 years ago, Saint-Gobain, the Paris-based building materials company, was just starting out as a glass manufacturer. Their first customer wanted them to install the windows and mirrors in his new house. The customer? King Louis XIV. The house? The Palace of Versailles.

Today, the company — a supplier of insulation, siding, roofing, and glass, among other products — operates in 66 countries and has more than 170,000 employees. So how has Saint-Gobain continued to innovate and change over the years?

“There’s an element within our DNA and within our R&D organization where we recognize that to be successful for another 350 years, which is our intent, we have to identify those things that are going to disrupt our current businesses,” says Minas Apelian, Vice President of Research & Development and Global Director of External Venturing at Saint-Gobain and its subsidiary CertainTeed Corporation. “It’s a balance between doing the work that we need to drive innovation across our existing businesses, developing new products, solving those problems, and then finding those things that are going to take us to the next level — that even threaten the existing businesses that we’re in.”

One way Saint-Gobain is working to disrupt their businesses is through partnerships with various external incubators, accelerators, and startups. One such partnership is with the largest cleantech incubator in the United States, Greentown Labs, located in Somerville, Mass. Saint-Gobain is a sponsor and member of the Greentown Labs community, providing product donations, partnering with startups from Greentown, and using lab space at the facility to test new technologies. We spoke with Apelian and the Director of CertainTeed’s R&D platforms, Todd P. DiNoia, about how the organization works with startups, partners with incubators and accelerators around the world, and promotes innovation internally.

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