Blog on Kleiner Perkin’s Energy Tech Thoughts at Cleantech Conference

Cleantech Venture Network’s Cleantech IX is in full swing at the Marriott in San Francisco this week. The largest turnout yet. Among the best received speakers were John Doerr and John Denniston of Kleiner Perkins. Kleiner Perkins, one of the best known players in venture capital, recently announced that they would be spending $100 mm on cleantech investments of their new funds. I don’t usually blog on other people’s thoughts, but theirs were certainly well received, and worth repeating, as well as informative summaries of why Kleiner is interested in investing in Cleantech, and what they are looking for. They described three core global problems driving their interest in Cleantech (or green technologies, as their press quotes have described it):
  • Oil Addiction
  • Urbanization
  • Climate Change
And called for joint efforts of private sector and policy to solve them. As part of this high level discussion, they gave a big plug to author and journalist Thomas Friedman (whose books I heartily endorse), quoting his statement “Green is the New Red, White, & Blue”, and referring to a recent OpEd piece he wrote (I haven’t read it yet) on 6 threats to national security that our oil addition has caused. The ones they mentioned 1) When the US exports dollars to “unaccountable” countries in return for oil, we risk those dollars coming back to haunt us, 2) Rises in oil prices impact poor countries more than rich ones, and provide recruiting fields for terrorists, 3) Globalization amplifies these risks, and 4) We are in a new flat world where we compete for oil with developing nations, too. To answer the question, if cleantech is so compelling, why now? they laid out three primary thoughts:
  • Market signals – demand is now there
  • Increasing computing power is becoming an enabling technology
  • New materials advances like nanotubes are enabling new breakthroughs

All of which I agree with, though I have concerns about how fast new materials can make it into a sector like energy.

They did mention specific areas of interest including solar of all kinds (see the previous post on solar concentrators for my thoughts on where solar is going next), distributed & reliable power, energy efficiency & storage and batteries, consumer products, and transportation.

Intriguingly not on the list was water, which in recent years has become hot in Cleantech, and they explicitly rejected the hydrogen economy as an good investment theme, interesting for a company that has a significant amount of money into solid oxide fuel companies Ion America and Lilliputian (though perhaps they view those as a non-hydrogen fueled play).

A few of KPCB’s cleantech investments todate:

  • EEStor – Ultracapacitor/battery
  • Miasole – thin film solar cells
  • Ion America – SOFC
  • Lilliputian Systems – MEMs SOFC

One other theme that I found interesting in their speech, they said that after the tech bust happened, the partners at Kleiner sat back and tried make sense of why some internet deals survived post boom and others failed, and what lessons they could learn. Their conclusion, the key ingredient for success (and lesson to be learned) was in the values and culture of the management team. They referred to it as businesses with missionary vs. mercenary management teams. According to them Missionary vs. Mercenary means:

  • Driven by passion vs. driven
  • Strategic vs. opportunistic
  • Whole life plan in work/life balance vs. “deferred life plan”
  • Concerned about the big idea vs. concerned about the pitch or the deal
  • Looking at the long-run vs. looking at the short-run
  • Obsesses with customers vs. obsessed with competitors
  • Meritocracy focused culture vs. Founder focused culture
  • Focused on the mission statement vs. the financial statement

Values count. Even in venture capital. A refreshing way to look to at the world. Now let’s hope they did their homework as well. Because despite the enthusiasm, investing in cleantech & energy tech is fundamentally different than investing in IT or biotech.

1 reply
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

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