“The Canadians. They walk among us. William Shatner. Michael J. Fox. Mike Meyers. Alex Trebek. All of them Canadians. All of them here,” said the American news anchor in Canadian Bacon, the mid-1990s movie satirizing U.S.-Canada relations.
Last week, a group of Silicon Valley-based Canadians launched C100 Cleantech, a new initiative to connect Canada’s cleantech entrepreneurs, investors and executives with their Silicon Valley counterparts.
“We are going to invite [Canadian] companies down to Silicon Valley and spend time mentoring, introducing Canadian entrepreneurs to other entrepreneurs, investors [and] operators in the Valley,” said Robb McLarty of NGEN Partners.
C100 Cleantech’s membership is no joke. Its list of charter members reveals that quietly but steadily, Canadians have infiltrated California’s top venture capital firms, from VantagePoint Capital Partners (Jon Quick) to Mayfield Partners (Pedram Mokiran) and from Mohr Davidow Ventures (Marianne Wu) to SAIL Ventures (Peter Polydor), among many others.
“As Canadians, it is easy to blend in because [we] are so much like Americans,” said McLarty. “There may be an impulse not to formalize it like in TiE. But there are a lot of advantages that don’t necessary get taken advantage of.”
“We think it is a good objective, a good way to do well by Canadians and by Canada, but really it is about doing well as individuals, as firms and as businesses,” said McLarty.
He should know. About a quarter of NGEN Partners’ active portfolio has a Canada angle.
“We think -- and our portfolio speaks to this -- that there is a disproportionately good flow of deals for cleantech coming from Canada. Follow the money in our portfolio,” said McLarty.
NGEN’s latest investment is Regen Energy, a Canadian startup that provides wireless demand management and demand response solutions for commercial and industrial buildings. Prior Canadian investments include DIRTT’s resource-efficient commercial retrofits, evandtec’s energy-saving water conditioning systems, and Greengate Power’s wind power developments.
Each year, Corporate Knights -- a Canadian magazine not to be confused with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police -- releases a list of Canada’s top 10 private cleantech firms. The 2011 list includes Saltworks Technologies, Morgan Solar, and Temporal Power. According to the Cleantech Group, Canada’s cleantech startups are on pace to raise more venture capital this year than ever before.
“Canada has a lot of energy innovation in the resource space,” said McLarty. “Cleantech as a startup sector was alive and well in Canada before [people] dubbed the term 'cleantech.' [...] There were a lot of Ballard [Power] babies. As a result, there has been a steady and disproportionate stream of energy- and environment-related startups up there.”
Now, with the help of Canadian transplants, those startups are on their way to Silicon Valley.
In early December, C100 Cleantech will formally hold its first event, 48 Hours in the Valley, to showcase the most promising startups among Canada’s more than 700 cleantech companies.
“The idea [behind] C100 is [that] by connecting people, it increases the [deal] flow and makes it more regular and permanent,” said McLarty. “If you are a Canadian entrepreneur or engineer, it makes [Silicon Valley] a little more familiar, because you already have a network.”
Yoni Cohen has worked for cleantech venture capital firms in San Francisco and Israel and reported about environmental innovation for numerous publications. Before school, he served as an advisor to candidates for and members of Congress. Follow Yoni on twitter @Cohen_Yoni.