GE's ecomagination Challenge: An Experiment in Open Innovation Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for GE's ecomagination Challenge: An Experiment in Open Innovation case study

At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. GE's ecomagination Challenge: An Experiment in Open Innovation case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Henry W. Chesbrough. The GE's ecomagination Challenge: An Experiment in Open Innovation (referred as “Ecomagination Ge” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Innovation & Entrepreneurship. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Leadership.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment

Case Description of GE's ecomagination Challenge: An Experiment in Open Innovation Case Study

University of California, Berkeley-Haas collectionThe GE ecomagination Challenge case study takes place in 2010 when Beth Comstock, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of General Electric is planning a meeting with GE's CEO, Jeffrey Immelt. The pair plan to discuss the company's ecomagination Challenge, an open innovation process that solicited energy ideas from individuals and start-ups to identify potential ventures for in green and renewable energy areas for GE to invest in. Pursuing this approach required several organizational processes that were new to GE. For one, they chose to partner with four outside VC firms, and pool the due diligence process with them and co-invest with them. For another, they chose to receive submissions to the ecomagination Challenge through a publicly available website. Nearly 4,000 submissions were received, and 75,000 people participated in the process. By 2011, the ecomagination Challenge had already resulted in $140 million (out of its allocated $200 million) of investments in 23 ventures. However, the scale of these results was dwarfed by GE's $37 billion energy business. And it would take years for these young ventures to reach a size that would be of direct business value to GE's energy business. And of course many of the young ventures would likely fail along the way. So the time has come in the setting of the case for Comstock to evaluate the results of the ecomagination Challenge more carefully, and decide on whether and how to continue this kind of activity within GE's energy business, or in other GE businesses. How should GE measure ecomagination's results in order to justify its existence and possible future investments? What new processes and structures would be required to make sure that some of the Challenge's investments would pay off for GE down the road? Based on the program's results to date, was the program a good investment for GE and something GE should repeat, or was it a noble experiment that should be discontinued?

Case Authors : Henry W. Chesbrough

Topic : Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Related Areas : Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Leadership

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for GE's ecomagination Challenge: An Experiment in Open Innovation Case Study

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004139) -10004139 - -
Year 1 3463342 -6540797 3463342 0.9434 3267304
Year 2 3964714 -2576083 7428056 0.89 3528581
Year 3 3961599 1385516 11389655 0.8396 3326235
Year 4 3225837 4611353 14615492 0.7921 2555165
TOTAL 14615492 12677285

The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2673146

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting

What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.

Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting

There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Net Present Value
2. Payback Period
3. Profitability Index
4. Internal Rate of Return

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Ecomagination Ge shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Ecomagination Ge have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.

Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of GE's ecomagination Challenge: An Experiment in Open Innovation

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Innovation & Entrepreneurship Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Ecomagination Ge often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Ecomagination Ge needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004139) -10004139 - -
Year 1 3463342 -6540797 3463342 0.8696 3011602
Year 2 3964714 -2576083 7428056 0.7561 2997893
Year 3 3961599 1385516 11389655 0.6575 2604816
Year 4 3225837 4611353 14615492 0.5718 1844383
TOTAL 10458694

The Net NPV after 4 years is 454555

(10458694 - 10004139 )

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%

If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10004139) -10004139 - -
Year 1 3463342 -6540797 3463342 0.8333 2886118
Year 2 3964714 -2576083 7428056 0.6944 2753274
Year 3 3961599 1385516 11389655 0.5787 2292592
Year 4 3225837 4611353 14615492 0.4823 1555670
TOTAL 9487654

The Net NPV after 4 years is -516485

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9487654 - 10004139 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Ecomagination Ge to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.

Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Ecomagination Ge has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Ecomagination Ge can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Ecomagination Ge, then the stock price of the Ecomagination Ge should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Ecomagination Ge should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.

References & Further Readings

Henry W. Chesbrough (2018), "GE's ecomagination Challenge: An Experiment in Open Innovation Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.