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A Roundup of Recent News

Rob Day: March 31, 2013, 4:27 PM

It's been quite a while since we did a roundup of recent news items here on the Cleantech Investing blog, but a few smaller news items have caught my eye and are worth discussing.

First of all, some housekeeping issues -- at my firm, we have made the decision to change the name of our firm to address a surprising amount of confusion out there in the marketplace. After receiving numerous business plan submissions addressed to "Black Corral Capital," we've determined it makes sense to change the firm's name to match apparent expectations. Of course, by that logic we also could have renamed the firm "Blackstone" or "Black Rock," but those are already taken. As we believe strongly in...

When’s That Next Wave Coming?

Rob Day: March 26, 2013, 10:09 AM

We recently held a one-day retreat for all of our portfolio CEOs at Black Coral Capital, and it was a really energizing affair. Rather than a day of stale presentations, we created lots of opportunities for our CEOs to compare notes with and look for ways to work with each other, and it was just terrific to be a fly on the wall as all those smart entrepreneurs chatted / cajoled / brainstormed / opined. Just great fun to watch. It certainly helped that all of our companies are in a revenue-growth phase, so they had lots of common points of discussion. And of course, they all had one shared investment partner to complain about with each other...

But to kick off the day I gave a...

Thoughts on Sales Traction

Rob Day: March 11, 2013, 1:31 PM

If you read this column regularly, you know I'm a bit obsessed with this question: Why do many startups in the cleantech sector see much slower-than-expected sales traction after successfully bringing solutions to market?

On the surface, it should be simple. If you bring to the market a solution that offers a compelling economic proposition, given how big the energy markets (etc.) are we should expect to see revenues skyrocket after commercialization. And yet that doesn't often happen. I often mention the company I saw that recently offered a customer a six-month payback period with a proven solution, and it took the customer nine months to say yes.

There are several reasons for...

How This Cleantech Investment Firm Is Tackling the Next Wave

Rob Day: February 26, 2013, 7:10 PM

Just stepped out of a great RFK Compass event, where I took the opportunity to deliver some of my current message to the limited partner community in person. And it occurred to me that, while I've put bits and pieces of the thesis into past columns here on this site, I've never really explained how we at Black Coral Capital are ourselves tackling the next great cleantech investment opportunity -- and you might want to know whether we practice what I preach. I've been reticent to turn out a column that's a blatant self-advertisement, but if you'll forgive me this once, I'll lay out what we're aiming to do and then you can all judge our performance over time... 

As background, we...

The Cleantech Investing Summit I Would Like to See

Rob Day: February 8, 2013, 4:53 PM

Stopped by the Cleantech Investor Summit out in Palm Springs this week -- meant to stay through for the entire event, but Nemo forced me to scurry back to Boston on an earlier flight.

Ira and his team always do a terrific job of running that event, it's always a good networking opportunity and they get big names to come speak. And Tesla test drives, of course.

But it seemed to me like yet another missed opportunity. With so many cleantech investors and their ecosystem partners under one roof, it would have been great to see more exploration of the emerging "next wave" of cleantech investing strategies. Instead, most of what was presented was what I call "old Cleantech VC":...

Fundraising Advice for the Seed-Stage Cleantech Innovator

Rob Day: January 28, 2013, 10:55 PM

Cleantech investors are commonly approached by very early stage entrepreneurs. And by "very early stage," I mean garage-based-inventor stage. In many cases they're not directly looking for funding from my firm at their stage, but they're looking for advice on how to raise seed capital.

We all need such entrepreneurs to succeed. Their innovation and enthusiasm is the lifeblood of our sector. And so while it's gratifying to encounter such innovators, it's also frustrating to find that so many are having a hard time getting started. And I have come to believe that in many cases these innovators are having an especially hard time because they're not looking for the right thing. They...

Lessons From the Past 10 Years: Embedded

Rob Day: January 18, 2013, 9:03 AM

As talk of the "internet of things" -- that is, smart equipment via automation and machine-to-machine communications -- continues to get attention, we're seeing more and more entrepreneurs bringing forth some flavor of idea involving energy-focused equipment controls. Smart-home plays, automated load shifting efforts, smart grid software, etc.

From a cleantech perspective, the basic concept is the same: Using automated intelligence, make hardware save energy spend via optimized usage patterns, and then build other value propositions (e.g., preventative maintenance, more granular data, remote sensing, etc) on top of that core value proposition.

As entrepreneurs tackle a variety...