Jonathan Shieber has a very good column in this morning's VentureWire, reporting on RockPort's big announcement about the close of their third fund, at $453mm
. The column uses RockPort's fund, as well as Element's $400mm ongoing fundraising, and NGEN's $500mm targeted fundraising
, to describe how the cleantech venture market is "maturing."
A few initial reactions, this morning, to some of the points in the coverage of this news:
First of all, big congrats to RockPort -- and for everyone else, this kind of fundraising momentum continues to show that LPs now consider cleantech a legitimate investment sector. As Dave Prend of RockPort is quoted as saying, in the above-linked VentureBeat story, "In 5 years if you interview anyone from Rockport, we’ll just be another venture fund. The fact that we do cleantech won’t be notable." Amen!
Secondly, this is another sign of how many of these investors are shifting away from early stage investing to target late stage investing. Daniel Englander of GTM reported yesterday that RockPort's new fund will have much more of a focus on later-stage investing.
[6/6 update: While the new raise will enable the firm to target more later-stage activity, they are still actively investing early stage, they have told me] The VentureBeat column adds in that the firm looks to invest in fewer firms with their new larger fund, than the 40 companies they invested in with their first two funds, which together totaled less than the new one. So clearly, larger checks than in the past, and thus it's implied they'll be doing more later-stage investing. Furthermore, as we discussed earlier, one Element LP has described that their new fund will only allocate 20% to early-stage investing
. So as the VentureWire story today described, later stage is perhaps starting to look a bit crowded, but all this is actually pretty good news for those still focusing on early stage investing -- all these high-quality later stage investors will have to be follow-on investors at some point.
Thirdly, and somewhat discouraging, it's notable to read in Shieber's story that part of what's motivating Element's bigger fund, and possibly RockPort's, is a desire to move away from syndicating deals. Michael Bevan of Element is quoted as saying, "We've had to syndicate transactions to appropriately capitalize companies, and we are targeting a larger fund so that we can avoid that on an ongoing basis."
Syndication, in the opinion of many investors and entrepreneurs I speak with, has been critical to the early success of the cleantech investment category. Cleantech markets are so broad, so diverse, and so complex that no one investor can ever hope to be an expert on all the technologies, all the markets, and also have full geographic scope. Having more smart board members, each bringing their own set of skills and experiences and networks, is often critical to the success of cleantech startups. It's not just about having deep pockets. The collegial nature of cleantech venture capital has been a very important part of the sector's growth and, frankly, one of the key factors that make it fun to be a cleantech investor -- collaborating and sharing with other investors, knowing at some point it's likely you'll end up investing together. It's something I know our entrepreneur business partners have valued as well. So I hope this doesn't end up, in retrospect, being a watershed moment in the industry, the point where that synergistic dynamic broke down. I suspect it isn't, because cleantech investments work best when there's a strong syndicate of investors for the reasons given above.
And fourth, and relatedly, there's the statements and implications in the VWire column that the investor community has concluded that cleantech is "going to be much more like biotech than it is going to be like IT," in terms of capital intensity and lengthy adoption cycles.
Yes, for many cleantech sectors, notably the hyped up solar and biofuels sectors, some investors have been surprised at the level of capital intensity. But for every capital intensive, "we're going to need to build a refinery or power plant" business plan, there are capital efficient plays (in energy efficiency, for example) that in fact look very much like IT. And even when capital equipment is core to the opportunity, venture capital equity isn't the only possible source for that capital. As we discuss here all the time, it's near-impossible to make broad characterizations of cleantech venture investment profiles, across all these varied markets, technologies and sectors. A solar cell looks very different than a fuel cell, which looks very different than a D-cell battery, which looks very different than a desal unit.
So in other words, this morning it's encouraging to see RockPort's successful close, congrats to the team. But it's also interesting to note that, based upon some of what's being written about the sector lately, it seems that investors are starting to gravitate toward some pretty divergent views on the market.