Monday, February 26, 2007

2007 Cleantech Venture Forum recap

We were lucky to have Matt Horton, a colleague at @Ventures, agree to write up his reflections on last week's Cleantech Venture Forum:

This week saw another successful Cleantech Forum in San Francisco. Attendance was rumored to be over 800, serving as another obvious indicator of growing interest in the sector. While the Cleantech Forum is still the premier cleantech networking event, the ratio of check-writers to other interested parties is on the decline. Here are a few of the highlights from the week:

Company presentations – There were a total of 18 companies that presented at this conference in rapid-fire succession, each company was only allotted 5 minutes to present. The presenters included interesting companies like Fat Spaniel, Green Catalysts, Flex Energy, Orion Energy Systems, Solexant and NanoH2O. The big winner, however, was a company called Serious Materials, who was named the “Most Promising Presenter”. What does it say about the state of the cleantech market when the most promising company makes drywall?

Speakers and panels – The conference was packed with outstanding panel discussions and speakers, including Steve Jurvetson, Amory Lovins, John Denniston, Neel Kashkari, Governors Mark Warner and Ed Rendell, Steven Chu, and Mayor Gavin Newsom. The discussions at the conference ranged from biofuels, solar, and smart grid applications to public policy, real estate and climate change. It appears that key public policy makers now understand that the government’s role is to establish a framework that sets the rules for competition and allows the market to decide how best solve our energy problems.

Key messages from the conference – 1) Plug-in hybrids seem to have captured the industry’s imagination for our transportation future, although next-gen electrics are gaining momentum. 2) Water opportunities continue to receive lots of interest, but few investment dollars. 3) A national cap and trade program is gaining currency among both investors and politicians.

Limited Partners event – The final event of the Cleantech Forum was focused on LP’s and their interest in the cleantech market. Attendance at the event made it clear that there is a lot of institutional and private money that is looking to gain exposure to the cleantech market. Many of these LP’s are currently debating whether to invest in pure-play cleantech funds, or traditional venture funds that are dabbling in the sector. Stoking that debate, Nick Parker pointed out that forecasts call for $20B of investment in cleantech over the next five years, and that all of the current pure-play cleantech firms only have about $2B to invest. Who will fill the void – traditional VC’s, or new cleantech managers? Time will tell...

Bonus round – After the Limited Partners portion of the Cleantech Forum, the Commonwealth Club held their annual awards dinner honoring contributors in the clean energy industry. Art Rosenfeld, Michael Peevey, Dan Kammen, Tim Draper, Denis Hayes, and the Energy Foundation were all honored. The best quote of the evening was given by Denis Hayes, when he said, “In Silicon Valley, there is a saying - ‘One company’s margin is another company’s market.’ Exxon Mobil earns around $100 million in profit every day. Go get ‘em!”

Matt also noted this big announcement from the city of San Francisco...


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