Another day, another greentech event in Silicon Valley.
This event comes to you from high above San Jose at what appears to be the last bastion of the world of wood-paneled gentlemens’ clubs at The Silicon Valley Capital Club. No denim allowed according to the invite from the Environmental Business Cluster.
Each of the investors on Tuesday’s panel highlighted one of their greentech portfolio’s pet investments and in some cases said something interesting. Here’s the rundown:
Susan Preston / General Partner at CalCEF
CalCEF is a small angel fund we covered here in CalCEF Angels.
Preston highlighted her firm’s investment in HID Labs, an innovator in high intensity discharge lighting for high bay lighting. Until now, according to Preston, the technology has been fairly antiquated but HID has a new take on the application and offers a 35 percent to 62 percent reduction in the power bill with better color and lighting than existing solutions. Michaels Kanellos wrote about HID here in The Modern Dimmer Switch.
Neal Dikeman / One of the founding partners of Jane Capital Partners
Neal “Eats, breathes and sleeps energy.” He is currently running a company in the carbon space and revised his previous statement: “I eat, breath and sleep carbon.” (Neal needs to vary his diet because he’s looking a bit sallow, maybe invest in drinking water and vegetables.)
Neal chanted variations of his policy mantra:
- “There is no disruptive technology, just disruptive policy.”
- “Without policy frameworks, these sectors don’t work.”
- “The only thing that matters is how well you understand the policy constructs.”
He highlighted his investment in superconductor firm, Zenergy Power.
Its device, a fault current limiter, is getting some real customer traction after, according to Dikeman, a typically long gestation period for energy products aimed at utilities. “If you can build FCLs there is a massive market,” he added.
Dan Rubin / Partner at Alloy Ventures
Dan started his career at semiconductor equipment companies and a semiconductor IP company in various operational roles and has been at Alloy for nine years. Alloy is now investing out of its current $370 million fund as it “continues to look at new opportunities.”
He is a linear algebra savant as evidenced by the following math: “We do 50 percent IT, 50 percent biotech, and 20 percent cleantech,” adding, “Clearly there’s an overlap in the IT, biotech and cleantech space.
“On the life sciences side we take mostly technical risk. On the IT side we take mostly market risk. There are a few places where you might take technical and market risk. The problem with some cleantech deals is that there is technical risk, market risk, pricing risk regulatory risk, subsidy risk, etc.”
“We’ll take some of those risks but we like to see deals where some of those are removed. More importantly, we like deals where there are fundable milestones that remove more of these risks.”
He highlighted a recent $1.5 million investment in a spin-out of an existing portfolio firm with some novel Si deposition tools for photovoltaics.
Cynthia Ringo / Managing Partner at DBL (formerly with VantagePoint Venture Partners)
DBL is “currently raising their second fund, the first close looks imminent” with a heavy emphasis on cleantech. DBL is a woman-owned firm
Their investments include Tesla Motors, Brightsource Energy, eMeter, and Powerlight (acquired by SunPower).
She highlighted Tesla Motors which she helped invest in while at VantagePoint.
Todd Kimmel / Mayfield Fund
Mayfield’s current funds total $400 million in the U.S., $150 million in India and $400 million in China, Kimmel, previously with ATV, founded Coskata with Khosla Ventures and helmed that syngas ethanol firm until recently.
- “The downturn is helping new technologies enter the market.”
- “We’re seeing a return to core technology focus.”
- “I think we’re going to see a wave of innovation in chemicals and materials”
- “I actually think the down turn will be good for entrepreneurs and start-up companies in the long term.”
Kimmel spoke of a recent term sheet for an unnamed firm using microbes that convert methane into a bio-plastic. Their technology is in the form of microbes and bioreactors to create the PHB plastic. He sees these types of deals with a very long-term horizon -- eight to ten years.
Alex Kinnier / Khosla Ventures
Khosla Ventures is an early stage investor with 50 portfolio companies in the greentech space. Alex remarked that, “We do not disclose the size of our fund due to our sources” (What does that mean? The sources are Russian oligarchs? Vinod’s mattress?) Choice quotes from Kinnier include:
- “There is an overall slowdown in the pace of investment but there is a pickup in efficiency applications."
- “Things that are cost-cutting are a pretty good place to be”
- “The large scale projects that require financing are getting hit pretty hard.”
- “I’ll tell you about a term sheet we put out this week. A professor at a notable university has a new way of storing energy. This professor has some novel modeling that shows there is some promise in this new technology. Why did we invest? The professor’s track record speaks for itself -- he has innovated multiple times before. If it works -- and that’s a big if -- market risk goes away. If this experiment works, there is still a long road until this becomes something that will affect our everyday lives.”
Six VCs and six pretty optimistic viewpoints.