Interview with Leading Cleantech Venture Capital Fund Manager Chrysalix

The Cleantech sector, whether under the banner of cleantech, or clean energy, or greentech, or energy tech, has seen a significant number of venture capital fund managers raising new investment funds to invest in clean technology startups in recent months. To give you the inside story, Cleantech Blog is interviewing several of the leading investors who have recently closed new venture capital funds focusing on cleantech.

For our first interview we are excited to have with us Christine Bergeron, Vice President, Investments at Chrysalix Energy.

Her Biography

Christine has been with Chrysalix since it was founded in 2001. As Vice-President, Investments, she leads investments, and actively works with Chrysalix’s portfolio of Client Companies. She currently sits on the Board of Akermin Inc., is Observer to the Board of Lilliputian Systems and was previously Observer to PolyFuel. She has been an invited speaker at a number of Investment Forums and a regular participant in company selection committees. Prior to joining Chrysalix, she worked with a Canadian based incubator where she assisted a variety of start ups with initial seed formation, market analysis, business planning and strategic development. She is a Director and member of the Investment & Finance Committee of E&CO, a public purpose investment company which empowers local enterprises that supply sustainable energy in less developed countries www.energyhouse.com. Christine enjoys teaching & writing, plays a variety of sports, is an avid traveler, and speaks 3 languages. She holds an Honours B.A. in Sociology from the University of Guelph and an MBA from the University of British Columbia.

I have known the team at Chrysalix for some time. I think it is fair to say that Chrysalix Energy is one of the best known energy tech VCs to emerge from the hydrogen and fuel cell investment craze. Though based in Vancouver, Canada, they have invested much of their fund cross-border. Their first fund, backed primarily by strategic investors interested in hydrogen technology, was focused on hydrogen and fuel cell startups, but with the recent closing of their second fund, they have expanded their focus to include clean energy, and have already made several investments outside of hydrogen, including solar startups Cyrium Technologies (GaAs-based PV modules), and Day4 Energy (photovoltaic concentrator technology).

So Christine, thanks for joining us, and we look forward to getting the inside track on where Chrysalix is headed with its latest fund.

Let’s start with the basics, how much capital did you raise for this cleantech and clean energy fund, and what is the target investment size and number of deals for this fund?

**70MM. Initial investment size anywhere from a few hundred thousand to a few million with overall investment 5-7MM per deal, most likely a dozen deals (depending on size/stage).

That’s a significant increase from the size of your first fund. How does the profile of target investments for this fund differ from your previous one?

**Our second fund has a Clean Energy mandate. We invest in and support compelling technologies and entrepreneurial management teams that address the changing demands of the global energy industry. Our first fund was focused on hydrogen and fuel cell technology companies. Our broader Clean Energy mandate reflects our deep roots in the clean energy sector and expectations for significant returns.

You have added a senior investment professional, what prompted you to do this, and can you give some background on his area of expertise and focus?

**Greg Sullivan joined the firm last year as a venture consultant and then joined as a Managing Director this July. His breadth of experience and track record make him a terrific addition to our team. He brings more than 15 years experience working in Clean Tech industries and Financial Markets. His wide-ranging background includes work in alternative fuels, water resources, nuclear power, and equity and debt Capital Markets.

The cleantech sector is becoming quite crowded with new investors coming in constantly, and I know Chrysalix is one of the first energy tech investment funds to bring institutional investors into the sector. What are the main challenges you faced in the fundraising process and was there any time your team doubted the raise would get away?

**Our first fund was early-stage focused and so far there haven’t been many exits. Raising a second fund in the absence of significant exits is always challenging. The second fund was raised on the strength of the investment team.

How did Chrysalix and your team differentiate the story to both investors and companies to separate yourselves from the crowd?

**Two differentiators were really important: (1) our strong team members with excellent individual track records and combined 40+ years experience in energy and 70+ year in venture capital and financing; (2) our strong and very supportive network of global industrial and financial Limited Partners

Christine, what do you feel are the key drivers in the investor interest in cleantech?

**The flurry of drivers that have occurred of late, such as oil prices, energy security, climate change concerns, grid failures, natural disasters, etc lead to the key driver – investors believe that above average returns can now be made in this sector.

Specifically, how big a factor do you feel each of the following industry areas were in attracting investor interest to your fund in particular and the cleantech sector in general: a) CO2 or GHG emissions and global warming, b) high oil prices, c) hydrogen economy, d) ethanol, e) solar & renewables?

**I think these are all pieces of the renewed interest. Put together, there is an argument that new generation technologies can become cost competitive and that markets are perhaps now ready to look at more efficient means of using energy. I also think large corporations are becoming more concerned and aware (Wal Mart, GE, etc), politicians are receiving more feedback from constituents, entrepreneurs from other industries are now looking at the cleantech sector… All of these things play a role in creating interest in the cleantech sector. The overriding factor however is the financial return potential. Cleantech is now becoming a mainstream investment class.

What quick advice would you give a cleantech entrepreneur looking for venture capital these days?

**The same advice I’d give any entrepreneur building a company. You need an A level team, a strong value-proposition for your customer, compelling technology that underscores your value proposition, focus, and a vision on how to create value. It will take more time and money than you believe. Avoid the hype and think about how to stay ahead of the curve.

What do you see as the major pitfalls in investing in cleantech?

**Some of the customers are utilities and slow adopters of new technology – this can lead to longer sales cycles, more development dollars, delayed revenues, etc. Changing regulatory regimes can also be a major pitfall within certain subsectors.

Those have certainly been challenges for investors in cleantech. As a follow-on, would you characterize any of the following cleantech investment areas as in a “bubble”, and does that worry you? a) ethanol, b) UK’s AIM exchange, c) solar sector?

**We invest over the long term and through the cycle. Bubbles by definition can only be defined after the fact. There are very stong drivers in the Clean Energy sector which we believe will persist for many years, and will only get stronger. There will of course be fluctuations in investor expectations and markets are always anticipatory. It is not unusual to see significant volatility in valuations of companies addressing emerging markets. It is a real challenge to predict price swings in the very short term. But over the medium and longer terms we strongly believe that significant value will be created in the Clean Energy sector, and we are positioning our portfolio around this view.

What has personally motivated you to invest in cleantech and clean energy?

**The Clean Energy sector presents a unique opportunity to invest for very significant returns and at the same time to make the world cleaner and more sustainable. This translates into very high morale within our portfolio companies. We are excited to work with world-class entrepreneurs developing technologies that will create significant wealth, job creation, and provide significant overall benefits to society.

Christine, thanks for joining us and sharing some of the cleantech vision from Chrysalix. We are excited that you guys have increase your market presence in such a big way. Now how can our readers reach you or submit a business plan to Chrysalix?

**My pleasure Neal, the best way is by email, cbergeron@chrysalix.com, or at the Chrysalix offices at 604.659.5499. You can also send us a business plan at info@chrysalix.com.

Chrysalix Energy Overview

Chrysalix Energy is the General Partner of Chrysalix Energy Limited Partnership, formed in 2001, and Chrysalix Energy II U.S. Limited Partnership, formed in 2005. Chrysalix Energy invests in technology-based Clean Energy companies and actively supports them with deep industry and technical knowledge, management and board assistance, organized networking with industrial and financial partners, management of intellectual property, and direct access to capital. Investors in the Chrysalix Energy Partnerships include Ballard Power Systems, BASF Venture Capital, BOC, Citigroup, Consensus Group, Delta Lloyd, Essent, Kuwait Petroleum Corp, Lexington Partners, Mitsubishi Corporation, Robeco, Shell Hydrogen, Teachers’ Private Capital and West LB Mellon. To learn more about Chrysalix Energy visit www.chrysalix.com.

Interviewer Neal Dikeman is a partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, and has been active in the cleantech sector in superconductors, fuel cells, solar, and software, as well as traditional energy, and is the founding contributor to Cleantech Blog.

5 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Good to hear there is a shift from hydrogen / fuel cells to real clean tech (PV & batteries R&D)Beyond the simple fact that Plugin hybrids are much less expensive today than any fuel cell car. Also Plugin hybrids require no extra infrastructure. Beyond that… there is the fact that in a an economy where electricity is the base energy source (PV, wind, nuclear, and clean coal), hydrogen is far less efficient then battery electric cars. Hydrogen steps1. turn electricity to hydrogen. 2. move the hydrogen from source to destination (the hydrogen pump). 3. store hydrogen in the car's tank 4. convert hydrogen back into electricity via a fuel cell.Electricity steps 1. ship electricity from source to destination. 2. store energy in battery. 3. draw energy from battery.This makes electric cars 4 times more efficient than electric cars.Its the difference between $1 / gallon electron gas vs $4 / gallon hydrogen gas. And this difference does not take into account the large extra infrastructure that needs to be installed for hydrogen!Flip through this simple powerpoint explanation. Note that this critical review is coming from the European Fuel Cell forum — a body devoted to Fuel cell research !http://www.efcf.com/reports/E16.pptor read the accompanying text :http://www.efcf.com/reports/E15.pdfIts a pity that we have spent so much time & money researching fuel cells for light automotive use. Improved Photovoltaic cells — can provide humanity with endless, cheap, clean energy. It will HAVE to.. if current predictions for population / increased energy intensity are right. (It comes down to nuclear vs. PV.) Which would you rather have? Time to invest heavily in PV (organic / nanoparticle basic science) & batteries ! (cheap liIon, cheap large scale thin film lithium batteries & recycling technology) carbon nanotube ultracapacitors may provide a great stationary power solution. check out work at MIT on this :http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=16326Enjoy-Matt

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Her advice is so text book that one wonders what do these Ballard trained guys in Vancouver really know about the VC business, especially in the alternative/cleantech spaceI was surprised that the number one requirement for this firm is the team. Cleantech is not dotcom, where smart connected people can make anything happen. What is needed for a successful cleantech company is as Vinod Khosla said, clear breakthrough technology. Not that a good team is not important..it is always important but not the key requirement atleast in the cleantech space.Bubbles by defination are defined after the fact..ha?

  3. Gunes E
    Gunes E says:

    I agree with Anonymous. Many in VC business have business plan fixation, putting the development of real breakthrough technologies in danger of not getting off ground. Technologists' business understanding should be compensated for by the business expertise of the VC people. I have recently sent Chrysalix a business plan summary based on a breakthrough hydrogen fuel cell technology that can provide 100 to 1000 times more power per unit volume; and in the future produce self-sufficient fuel cells. I don't think I was able to raise even a small amount of curiosity about this technology in Chrysalix people. It must have been my English –:))/Dr. Gunes Ecer, AppliedUs Corp. e-mail: gtiecer@aol.com

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