James Woolsey, the former CIA director and venture partner with VantagePoint Venture Capital, has joined Lux Capital along with Richard Foster, a McKinsey alum and prolific author.
Woolsey is one of the regular speakers on the greentech circuits -- and one of the more interesting ones. He was one of the first to hammer home the lesson that green technology and national security are intertwined. Woolsey will concentrate on energy and Foster on life sciences.
The two are a coup for Lux, which primarily invests in early-stage companies with an emphasis on cutting-edge scientific research. The firm, for instance, has invested in two companies started from research conducted by Angela Belcher, the MIT professor that creates genetically modified organisms to produce industrial chemicals. It also put money into Transphorm, a University of California Santa Barbara spinoff that makes hyper-efficient AC-DC converters, and Accelergy, which makes plane fuel from coal. It also incubated Kurion, a modular nuclear waste company. One could argue that Lux functions like an extension of the tech transfer office of a university.
But with cutting-edge science comes risk. The first company from Belcher, Cambrios, has abandoned biological techniques. It also invested in Nanosys, which is currently staging a comeback from a near-death experience during the short lived nanotech boom back in 2003-2004. (Precisely, the boom lasted from December 20, 2003 to 3:27 p.m. on March 14, 2004.) Take a look at the portfolio list: a lot of great concepts, but not a ton of IPOs or even industrial household brands.
Ideally, Woolsey and Foster can help the firm create tighter links between its companies and established industries.
VantagePoint, meanwhile, is in the midst of raising a $1.5 billion late-stage fund. Unlike Lux, VantagePoint doesn't necessarily target early stage companies. Instead, it takes a representative approach. That is, it has a company in almost every segment and subsegment in greentech, but usually only one. In automotive, it has investments in Better Place (charging infrastructure), cars (Tesla), and batteries (Amprius). The lighting strategy follows a similar subsegment path.
Woolsey is not the first big name to leave the firm. Bill Green left VantagePoint to go to a private equity firm currently raising money for Better Place.