Most venture capital firms, greentech or otherwise, claim that they "roll up their sleeves" and provide value-adding services for their startup portfolio firms. I'm sure that the majority of VC investors genuinely aim to do that.
But, in reality, investors are stretched thin on time and resources and it's really up to the entrepreneur to execute on the business plan, maneuver through the market and reach decision makers and influencers.
Steve Westly, founder of greentech VC firm The Westly Group, claims that "what they do is quite a bit different." Westly and his team are "experts in helping portfolio companies with their interactions with government -- federal, state and local." For example, getting permitting for a solar facility in Milpitas, California or negotiating the details of a tax abatement deal for Tesla.
This would be an empty promise coming from most investors. But Westly can back up the claim.
Prior to founding the VC firm that bears his name, Westly served as the Controller and Chief Fiscal Officer for the state of California. As Controller, he chaired the State Lands Commission and served on 63 boards and commissions, including CalPERS and CalSTRS, the nation's largest public pension funds which, combined, invest more than $350 billion. As Controller, Westly led an effort to commit more than $1 billion to cleantech investments.
After the election of President Obama in November 2008, it was briefly rumored that Westly was being considered for appointment as U.S. Secretary of Energy. Westly expects to return to public service sometime around the 2020 presidential race.
So, this is clearly someone who knows his way around the political landscape and has a top-shelf set of contacts in his Rolodex.
Another distinction at this firm, according to Westly, is that "all of our people make a financial commitment" to the investment fund, adding, "For the last three funds, we've personally put in $50 million." That includes about 7.5 percent of the current fund and 100 percent of the first fund. So, everyone at the firm has some skin in the game. Note that the firm is not an early stage investor but rather invests in post-revenue companies.
As mentioned, three of the firms in The Westly Group's portfolio went public in 2010: electric vehicle wunderkind Tesla; yeast-based synthetic biology company Amyris; and less prominently but more lucratively, CREG, China Recycling Energy Corporation, with their waste heat recovery technology. Add to that the acquisition of their smart grid portfolio firm, Eka Systems, by Cooper Industries.
The firm is going to be raising another fund in 2011 and will continue to invest in revenue-generating greentech startups. The firm looks at green building materials, solar, smart grid, energy efficiency, fuel cells, microturbines and all of the sectors that fall under the greentech rubric.