In Episode 39 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on November 5, 2011 on Green 960 AM radio), show host Dick Lyons speaks with Cynthia Ringo, Managing Partner of DBL Investors.  Cynthia was also on a panel at the California Cleantech Innovation Conference held in Oakland on November 2-3, which the firm sponsored. And on the heels of his recent trip to Korea, Dick presented at the conference discussing issues cleantech companies should consider when looking to expand in global markets.

DBL Investors is a San Francisco-based venture capital firm with a double bottom line investment strategy. They focus on companies that value their communities and the environment, in addition to favorable profits.  What kind of companies are in their portfolio?  A pretty wide range, many with names you’ve heard, representing a variety of aspects of the cleantech economy, including alternative energy, solar, green vehicles, bio materials and fuels, and lighting.

Cynthia and Dick discuss the types of companies that appeal to DBL.  They find themselves working with companies in almost a proprietary manner to develop social, environmental, and economic benefit in communities in which the companies operate.  Portfolio companies are generally looking to transform neighborhoods and communities. 

Of course, DBL is an investment firm, so financials and returns are measured as one might expect.  But beyond that, twice a year DBL also issues a report to their investors on a number of qualitative and quantitative metrics that they employ to analyze the portfolio on factors such as the number of jobs created in low- to moderate-income areas, employee diversity and opportunity, and green initiatives.

The conversation explores the topic of international growth for cleantech companies.  Dick and Cynthia discuss issues related to when companies should start to consider the foreign market opportunities, as well as hurdles, including foreign certifications and entity ownership and partnership requirements imposed in some jurisdictions.  Many countries (such as China and Korea) require the company to form a joint venture with a party in that country, raising possible complications to protecting intellectual property, among other challenges. 

Cynthia mentions some of the cutting edge technology coming out of a few of the companies she works with, wich include Solar City, BrightSource Energy, Solaria, Tesla, OPX Bio, and Primus Power.

Take a listen and then drop us a line with your thoughts on impact investing and the market for cleantech innovation in the current economy.

 

SHOW NOTE:
Tune in at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, November 12, 2011, to hear Dick’s conversation with the Chairman and Executive Editor of GreenBiz.com, Joel Makower.

 

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Cynthia Ringo: Episode 39 of The Wendel Forum (27:43 min, mp3)

DBL Investors: http://www.dblinvestors.com/

California Cleantech Innovation Conference: http://www.grow-california.com/conferences/clean-tech-innovation/

Dick Lyons website bio: www.wendel.com/rlyons

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

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In Episode 37 of The Wendel Forum(originally aired on Green 960 AM radio on October 22, 2011), show host Donald Simon talks with Randy Hawks of Claremont Creek Ventures to discuss current trends in the cleantech investment landscape. 

Claremont Creek Ventures is a venture capital firm investing in early stage information technology companies.  Their East Bay location allows them to work closely alongside many excellent research-driven “incubating institutions,” such as UC Berkeley, UC Davis and the Lawrence Livermore and Berkeley Laboratories.

According to Randy, the investment climate is actually seeing some positive moves, despite what you read in the papers.  He claims that there is a 12% uptick in 3rd quarter investing over 2nd quarter in the cleantech space this year.  And Northern California is a great place to be in this sector.  We still get 35 – 40% of the deals being done in the United States and about half of the total dollars.  While the early part of the year saw increased IPO activity, the overall venture capital investment climate is stronger now than it has been in the past couple of years.

Donald and Randy discuss the impact of the research and development funded by U.C. Berkeley and local labs.  Historically, these types of institutions have not been as nimble as some of the private schools and institutions when it comes to licensing the technology they develop.  Even so, the fundamental “game changing” research that they can inspire sets a great stage for technology to evolve into the marketplace.

Further, Randy shares his view on the market shift in the types of deals being done.  Previously bigger amounts of money went to fewer projects. More recently the trend has move toward smaller deals that look like early stage software technology deals.  The models of lean investing that have been previously used in the technology industry are becoming more popular in cleantech.  Deisgn, develop and deploy runs parallel to programs for customer engagement to speed the time to market and ensure a strong company launch.  While these tactics have been used for consumer internet companies for a number of years, other industries including cleantech and healthcare are adopting the tactics.

The two wrap up with a brief discussion of the common pitfalls that Randy has seen with early stage companies when they neglect some fundamental legal issues in their early development.  So often, young companies start out with a couple of friends and a handshake. That may be a fine way to start out, but ignoring issues regarding how the company will be structured and who owns what rights to innovation can lead to problems down the line.  As he says, “It matters if you’re successful.”  So what are the three key areas that deserve attention?  Randy suggests:

  1. Corporate Formation 
  2. Intellectual Property and Licensing
  3. Employment

If you’re interested in hearing more perspectives on the investment climate and meeting some of California’s “Game Changing” clean tech companies, check out the California Clean Tech Innovation Conference happening in Oakland on November 2-3.  Randy will be a panelist at the Energy Efficiency session.  Go to the conference website for more information or to register. 

California Cleantech Innovation Conferencecleantech conference icon
November 2-3, 2011
Kaiser Center Auditorium

At the Kaiser Center in Oakland CA, you will see California’s leading Clean-Tech policymakers… Hear from “Game Changing” Clean-Tech companies on Energy Efficiency, Water, Recycling & Environmental issues along with renewables such as Solar, Water, & Wind & Green transportation. Also speaking will be Clean-Tech experts from California’s leading Universities & Federal Labs, as well as numerous Angel Investors, Venture Capitalists & Private Equity Funds. Grow-California brings all the influencers together at one Clean-Tech Conference.  http://www.grow-california.com/conferences/clean-tech-innovation/

Post Links:

Interview with Randy Hawks of Claremont Creek: Episode 37 of The Wendel Forum (27:35 mins; mp3)

California Cleantech Innovation Conference website: http://www.grow-california.com/conferences/clean-tech-innovation/

Claremont Creek Ventures website: http://claremontcreek.com/view.cfm/3/Home

Green 960 AM radio website: http://www.green960.com/main.html

Donald Simon website bio: www.wendel.com/dsimon

In Episode 33 of The Wendel Forum(originally aired on Green 960 AM radio on September 24, 2011), show host Dick Lyons welcomes Peter Walters, COO of Zinc Air Inc. and an expert on the topic of how to deliver utility-scale energy (particularly from renewable sources) more efficiently.  Peter provides explanations regarding the concepts of power firming and peak shifting, along with a number of other aspects related to safe and predictable energy delivery. 

His company, which is based in Kalispell, Montana, is the developer of the Zinc Redox flow battery.  According to the company’s website:

Zinc chemistry reduces cost through the use of abundant and locally available materials. Zinc Redox batteries have high energy density, low cost, safe operation, and are designed to be the greenest battery technology on the market. Using a flow battery technology, Zinc Redox focuses on grid storage applications including energy peak shifting and renewables (solar/wind) integration, designed to address the issues of matching demand with supply and variability.

Peter identifies several of the problems we face in the U.S. related to our delivery of energy to consumers.  According to him, we waste about 60% of the energy we produce, we have an aging energy infrastructure, and demand continues to increase.  Not only that, but new applications (such as electric vehicles) are placing new stresses on our energy delivery systems.

Current generation and transmission of energy throughout the grid fail to adequately address the issues of real time supply and demand. Historically, we have struggled to effectively store energy so that it can be harnessed and released to the grid when needed.  The development of better battery storage technologies opens the possibility of load shifting and other tactics to deliver energy when supply is required, not just when we are able to produce it.

During his interview, Peter explains some of the limits of our current infrastructure and how battery storage may solve many of the problems. He and Dick also discuss some of the specific challenges as they relate to the production of energy from renewable sources, such as solar and wind. 

Need more proof that this technology is heading in the right direction?  The flow battery solutions being developed by Zinc Air start with safety.  The chemicals used are non-toxic and not corrosive, a step forward from what we typically think of in batteries.  The company spends a lot of time on the issue of safety in the product development and the installation of these systems, addressing concerns related to both man-made and natural disasters. And they know they have to do this all at the right price point.  
Show Note:
This Saturday (October 1, 2011) tune in to The Wendel Forum at 11:30 a.m. on Green 960 AM radio for a conversation with Flory Wilson of B Labs, who will reveal the new Global Impact Investing Ratings System (GIIRS), which is a comprehensive and transparent system for assessing the social and environmental impact of companies and funds with a ratings and analytics approach analogous to Morningstar investment rankings and Capital IQ financial analytics.
Post links:

Listen to the interview with Peter Walters:  Episode 33 of The Wendel Forum(27.48 min, mp3)

Zinc Air Inc. company website: www.zincairinc.com

Wikipedia entry for “flow battery”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_battery

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

Dick Lyons website bio: www.wendel.com/rlyons

Are you looking for the latest in employee benefits for your recruitment and retention efforts in a challenging economy?  Group Energy thinks they have found an employee benefit that’s a win-win-win-win (we’ll get into that later) for companies that value sustainability.

In Episode 23 of The Wendel Forum (originally aired on Green 960 AM radio on July 9, 2011), Jessie Denver, CEO and Founder of Group Energy, talks with show host Bill Acevedo about her consulting firm, which works with organizations to set up employee engagement programs that pool employees’ buying power for energy improvements in their homes.

Jessie Denver, CEO of Group Energy in Studio

Jessie Denver, CEO of Group Energy in Studio

At no cost to the employer, Group Energy organizes employee buying groups that have resulted in savings of up to 40% off the cost of home solar installation. 

The process starts with employee education to build program awareness.  A group forms within the company, and the group appoints a committee to work with Group Energy to review responses to an RFP process based on the needs of the participants. 

Each campaign gets its own webpage for internal promotion, status tracking and communication.  Once installations occur, there’s even a dashboard for tracking energy savings for the group, giving the program a quantitative element that will be particularly attractive to those responsible for tracking and communicating Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts for companies.

The Win-Win-Win-Win

With a variety of projects completed now, Group Energy has found that these campaigns have a number of benefits:

  1. Employees Win . . . by getting substantial savings on home energy improvements, including for solar, water heaters, insulation, etc.  Employees are engaged in the management of the process and have a high degree of engagement with their company and each other.
  2. Employers Win . . . by offering a relatively rare (so far) benefit to employees, aiding in employee loyalty, retention and recruitment.  They can also tout the program as a part of their CSR programs and use the campaign tracking statistics in their sustainability measures. 
  3. Lenders Win . . . by offering financing for these projects, including some new products that have evolved out of recent specific campaigns. One credit union developed a new low interest unsecured loan model for participants that don’t have a lot of equity in their homes.
  4. Installers/Contractors Win . . . because these pooled buying groups streamline the sales process, an expensive and time consuming component of running a solar installation business. 

This type of innovative thinking has the potential to make solar and other energy improvements available to a much wider audience of people than might otherwise pursue it on their own. 

Listen to the entire interview and let us know what you think.  Are you aware of other programs that engage employees in similar ways? 

 

Post Links:

Listen to the interview with Jessie Denver: Episode 23 of The Wendel Forum (27.26 min)

Group Energy website: www.mygroupenergy.com

Group Energy email: info@mygroupenergy.com

Group Energy information: Group Energy Info Sheet  [PDF]

Green 960 AM radio website: www.green960.com

About host Bill Acevedo: www.wendel.com/wacevedo

We want to remind all of our Bay Area green business friends that this Thursday is the San Francisco Business Times’ annual Cleantech & Sustainability Awards (previously called the Green Awards).  There are a lot of great green leaders being recognized on this year’s finalist list (below).
 
Check out our previous post, which includes the interview with Lindsay Riddell, the cleantech and green business reporter for the San Francisco Business Times.  

 
San Francisco Business Times Cleantech & Sustainability Awards 2011

  • Date: Thursday, June 16, 2011
  • Time: Registration at 5:30, Awards from 6:00 – 7:00 followed by gala reception
  • Place: InterContinental Hotel San Francisco, 888 Howard St., San Francisco

Follow this Link to RSVP:    Cleantech & Sustainability Awards

2011 Finalists:

Cleantech & Sustainability Awards Info & Registration Form:  http://www2.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/event/37371

In Episode 4 of The Wendel Forum on Green 960 AM radio (originally aired on Saturday, February 26) Dick Lyons discusses the surprising green industry emerging from China. Wind seems to be the next big thing (again) for renewable power generation. Will the Chinese wind turbine market be as successful for them as their forays into solar panel production? Take a listen to the episode and let us know what you think.