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

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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