Seven companies have been named participants in a proof-of-concept program.

As traditional utilities look toward a potential all-electric future of internet-connected everything, including mass transit, a change-or-die mood has taken hold, and for good reason. The underpinnings of modern society are hinged upon their outdated systems. So they’re doing what every other industry is doing: Turning to startups for the creativity, flexibility and energy to solve giant challenges.

Columbus-based American Electric Power Co., one of the largest U.S. utilities, is partnering with Palo Alto, Calif.-based Electric Power Research Institute and UK-based L Marks, an innovation adviser and investor in early-stage companies, in a proof-of-concept program they’re calling IlluminationLab that’s chosen seven startups as participants. Their projects include augmented reality (Ario Technologies), fleet electrification (eIQ Mobility), satellite-powered infrastructure grid monitoring (LiveEO), drone inspections (Sterblue), mobile charging (FreeWire Technologies) and solar power education (PickMySolar), and they hail from places as far as Berlin, Germany, and as close as Virginia—none of the companies are based in Columbus.

The companies and representatives of IlluminationLab members, which come from the nation’s largest power companies, plus one from Tokyo, will reconvene in Columbus Sept. 12 to review the startups’ project progress.

Katy Smith is editor of Columbus CEO.