As part of the SEW Innovation Series last week, SEW’s Chief Strategy Officer George Hunt interviewed EPIcenter CEO, Kimberly Britton, to discuss Innovation Realization vs Innovation Theater. EPIcenter offers a variety of services for utilities and startups in order to help them innovate and scale their businesses, and Britton shared her key takeaways for innovation success.

What does innovation mean?

Britton and her team have come across a lot of “sound and fury” within the energy space on the need for innovation, but often find there is “all thrust and no vector.” From her experience, innovation is more than just process improvement. True innovation moves the organization strategically forward and isn’t just the latest piece of technology or business model.

Buy In

Organizations need to understand that innovation cannot come from a singular person on staff with a unique title or even from one small team without building a culture to support it. It can be a “huge risk” to not have commitment from the top to empower those responsible for innovation and all comes down to having the right people in the room.

Alignment & Strategy

Before innovation realization can happen, Britton first asks, “What are the core tenets of the organization and what do you want to achieve?” Then she and her team focuses on how to align existing or new technologies and prioritize them based on the needs of the organization. This ensures that the utility isn’t falling in love with a particular technology or business model, but can strategically align the needs and restrictions of the utility with the innovation that is required for growth.

Process & Funding

EPIcenter hadn’t initially intended on specializing in innovation management, but saw a great need in the market as their utility partners struggled to “keep the lights on, keep it affordable, and yet be innovative in a consistent, de-risked fashion.” Being an investor or municipally owned utility can make it incredibly difficult to pursue innovations, so EPIcenter decided to create a process to help clients identify and validate their needs and innovation projects. The key to success is to not only have top-level but mid-level buy in and enough people to move through the process past legal and financial benchmarks.


Of all the projects and opportunities that EPIcenter has, Britton is most proud of her team. They took on a lot of risk joining a startup for startups and have stuck by her through the years despite the challenges. Frequently throughout the interview, Britton emphasized the need for the right team to be in the room when innovation occurs. In her mind, a singular person is never going to be the salvation point for a utility. Innovation realization requires talented, creative thinkers to collaborate and execute on vetted ideas.


Balancing heart and mind is equally important to the above. The right mindset is key to building a culture of empowerment within an organization and will help carry the team through the ups and downs of innovation realization. If there is a disconnect between the mindset and the desired goal, then the project may then turn into another example of “all thrust and no vector.”

A final word of thought from Britton giving advice to a younger self would be to not care what people think of her. In fact, people are often not even thinking of you in the first place. She wished she had learned that much earlier in life, but is now focusing on being the most kind she can possibly be.