Serious Energy and Scientific Conservation (SCI) are embroiled in a nasty lawsuit in Georgia, but they almost could have been friends.
The two companies make tools for managing energy consumption in buildings. It's expected to be a huge market (despite the fact that Cisco failed at it), and Serious and SCI are two of the more notable startups. Late last month, Serious announced it had hired John Pitcher, SCI's founder and one of its larger individual stockholders, and Chip Pieper, SCI's former VP of business development.
In turn, SCI filed a lawsuit alleging breach of trade secrets. The suit was only recently filed, but it is already acrimonious.
The complaint, though, shows the relationship wasn't always frosty. The complaint alleges that on December 17, 2010, Serious CTO Mark Tinianov and SVP Mark Mitchell asked Pieper (see above) and Dave Weinerth, another SCI employee, "whether SCI had any interest in selling to Serious." The complaint alleges that the SCI employees said we're better than you and left it at that.
Serious CEO Kevin Surace declined to comment on the specific allegation but said that Serious, like virtually every other tech company, continually ponders potential acquisitions. Trial balloon conversations like this have probably occurred with loads of companies. It's almost a corporate pick-up line. ("So...are you involved in a strategic relationship with anyone?")
Still, an interesting tidbit. We will stay on it. Elsewhere:
--A123 Systems -- the lithium-ion battery maker that loses money every quarter -- says it has landed a production contract with General Motors for an electric car that will get shipped worldwide. The stock is up as a result, aided in part by general panic and emotional trading.
It's good news for A123, but just how good remains to be seen. A123 lost the contract for batteries for the Volt to LG Chem. A potential deal with Chrysler fell through. A123 won the contract to supply batteries to Fisker Automotive, but it also invested $30 million in Fisker. Black & Decker for years was A123's biggest customer, but the power tool giant phased out its Massachusetts neighbor in favor of Sony.
Big customers simply like dealing with big, established battery companies that can provide low volumes of battery cells cheaply. Lithium phosphate batteries, A123's stock-in-trade, are also available from a growing number of manufacturers. The contract is good news, but it's also vague and forward-looking.
A123 has found some success in grid storage. AES, among others, has built stationary battery packs with their cells. Grid storage is a miniscule market right now but could grow. (Disclosure: I'm somewhat skeptical on A123. Back in late 2009, the gushing enthusiasm for the IPO seemed a bit over the top and the lost contracts seemed too glaring to ignore. History may color my outlook a bit, but at least it's good to know that there's at least one other non-cheerleader out there.)
Historical tidbit: A123 started the same year (2001) as Suntech, Canadian Solar, EnerNoc, Konarka, Akeena, Greenfuel Technologies, Miasole and Bloom Energy.
--Speaking of companies with questionable pasts, Nanosys today announced it won a grant from the Department of Energy to help commercialize its silicon nanowire anode for car batteries. The DOE's goal is to lower the cost of EV batteries to $250 a kilowatt-hour, or less than half the current price for most manufacturers.
Nanosys ruled the nano world back in 2004. It had partnerships with multinationals and planned to go public. The fact that it had a miniscule revenue stream forced them to pull back. But after soul-searching and trimming back, it is on the comeback trail. Samsung invested last year. Now, Nanosys mostly focuses on LEDs and batteries.
--More stock news. Cree is also rising after its earnings call. Joshua Paradise at Morgan Stanley (allegedly his real name) says that second- and third-tier Asian manufacturers are losing a bit of ground to established players like Cree. We've heard this too: a Chinese exec recently told us that they advertise how they use Cree, and not local brands, in their LED street lights.
A number of people in lighting are also talking about the ceiling fixture Cree released at Lightfair. The fixture will run on LEDs but replaces fluorescent ceiling lights. It only costs a few hundred dollars. Payoff comes through lower electricity consumption and less replacement/maintenance headaches.
--Finally, Zach Gentry, co-founder of lighting networking specialist Adura Technologies, is now at enLighted (sic), which also makes lighting controls. EnLighted was founded by Tushar Dave from NewPath Ventures. NewPath, founded by Vinod Dham, specializes in Indian investments and has put money into Nevis Networks and others. Some of the other execs seem to hail from this Mafia, as well. We've heard of other rumored investors (four names, first one begins with a K) but can't confirm yet. More later.