Power Couple

Ensto and UCLA join forces to examine market opportunities for the California grid.

Ensto has already taken its first step into the US market. Its business generates millions of dollars in sales of wildfire-fighting technology to California customers. Its early research also indicated that all systems were go for the US market.

But because long-term success in the US market is hard won, a second opinion is never a bad thing, especially when it comes from people at a highly-ranked graduate business school like the UCLA Anderson School of Management.

Thanks to a project partially sponsored by Finland’s government, Ensto was able to participate in UCLA's Global Access Program, a capstone project for students and the culmination of the fully-employed MBA program.

Five students, all with prestigious work experience, expressed preference for working with Ensto: Amelia Smith (Northrop Grumman), Nha Phan (Apple), Kristiene Gong (San Diego County Water Authority), Jonathan Buckley (Adobe), and Yechan Kim (US Navy). Their mission: to assess Ensto's entry into California with its solutions to reduce wildfire risk in electricity distribution and to develop a market entry strategy and business plan.

Hundreds of interviews

The five began their project in mid-July 2022, meeting weekly with each other and biweekly with Ensto's Mika Haikola, SVP, Underground Networks Business and Demand Creation. Alexis Dennis, President of Ensto North America for the US, also made herself available.

“Ensto gave us full access,” says Jonathan Buckley, speaking on behalf of the UCLA team, “letting us talk to anyone we wanted, from finance to product development. Because of the technical aspect, this was a harder lift compared to many of our colleagues’ projects.”

The team also spoke with people outside of Ensto, conducting over 100 interviews among California utilities, as well as in states that monitor California closely, like Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Utah. The team spoke to existing Ensto customers, and also conducted a survey with electrical engineers from the utility business.

"The people they spoke to were EVPs and C-level people," says Haikola. "It would have been impossible for me to reach these people, but when someone from UCLA calls they were available. It's something we could never have accomplished as Ensto alone."


The team presented its findings to Ensto on the UCLA campus in early December. Their conclusions?

"California utilities have big budgets because of the state’s inverse condemnation law, which puts the utility on the hook for billions of dollars if it causes even a single percent of a wildfire," says UCLA's Jonathan Buckley. "But they're in a difficult position to evaluate product offerings against all the other solutions on the market."

So the UCLA team recommended that Ensto focus heavily on communicating effectiveness data about its products and building relationships. "A big barrier in California is bureaucracy. The industry there is relationship heavy. But once you have those you can sell. Thanks to Ensto products already in use in California, Ensto has some real cachet.”

“The team’s work served to validate a lot of the work we’d done, as well as confirm some of our instincts,” says Alexis Dennis.

Haikola adds that the team’s work also demonstrated that the market may be wider than Ensto had originally anticipated. “We understood that there are a number of other players that are potential customers, or smaller customers that plan differently for the future. They really described the business environment and its dynamics in great detail.”

Not everything roses

Not all of the 50 companies, including 14 from Finland, who participated in the capstone project received good news. In some cases, the UCLA teams concluded that the cost it would take to establish a market presence in the US wasn’t worth the investment. Or they discovered the US market was already saturated with similar products.

"I was extremely happy," says Haikola. "I was probably the happiest of those from the 14 Finnish companies." He was not only pleased with the conclusion; he was thrilled with the quality of the work. "I said 'Holy Moly' when I saw their CVs. And then the level of competence and interest on their part was just amazing."

Haikola was so happy that at the closing dinner he told them to give him a call if they were looking for a job. For the near future, however, the team members have decided to stick with their current occupations. But even though they won't be employees, it’s clear the world has five new Ensto ambassadors.

"Our relationship with Ensto was very transparent and the access was incredible,” says Buckley. “We were also impressed by how it operates as a family business and how the third generation works together. Most family companies aren’t able to say that.”


In the picture from the left: Nha Phan, Yechan Kim, Alexis Dennis, Mika Haikola, Jonathan Buckley, Amelia Smith, and Kristiene Gong.