From the Road: The 2017 New England Venture Summit
The 2017 New England Venture Summit

Paul Seidler heads out to Boston to network with cleantech startups and VCs and leaves with new inspiration about the potential of innovative investment models to have a real impact.

I spent December 5th and 6th at the New England Venture Summit in Boston to speak on a panel and swap business cards with over 120 startups and 100 VCs. Hosted by youngStartup Ventures, the New England Venture Summit was effective at fulfilling its tagline: Where Innovation Meets Capital.

There were five startup tracks: Cleantech, Life Sciences, EdTech, Tech/Software, and Seed Stage. I served as a coach and judge for the cleantech track, which featured 31 startups at various stages pitching to a room full of VCs seeking their next deal.

Among the presenting startups were some familiar faces, like CET portfolio company GreenLancer, a Detroit-based company that provides on-demand engineering services for solar installers (currently raising their Series C round—let me know if you’re interested!), and Infinite Cooling, an early-stage MIT spinout that won last year’s DOE Cleantech UP national student competition for their novel approach to helping large power plants use less water in their cooling process. I also met several new, exciting startups, like Living Greens Farm, a Minnesota-based company that developed a turnkey vertical, indoor growing system that uses 200 times less land and 95% less water.

When the pitches wrapped up, I spoke on the “Powering Up Capital for Cleantech Innovation” panel to discuss market trends and the future of venture capital investments in cleantech. I was joined on the panel by Sasha Brown (Ecosystem Integrity Fund), Jason Cahill (McCune Capital), Sara Chamberlain (Energy Foundry), David Miller (Clean Energy Venture Fund), and Jeph Shaw (New Energy Capital).

Moderated by Sven Riethmueller from Pepper Hamilton, the panel represented a wide range of investors, from seed stage venture to project finance.

Panelists explained the focus and investment philosophy for their respective funds and offered unique perspectives on where cleantech has been, where it is today, and where it’s going in the future as an investment sector.

Several of us agreed that “Cleantech 1.0” was a bust for VCs, but despite the big losses and retraction from the sector over the past several years, we’re seeing renewed interest in “Cleantech 2.0”, generally thought of as a broader class of innovation that goes beyond biofuels and solar panels to address environmental sustainability more comprehensively.

Where some of the panelists disagreed, however, was in their investment strategy.

Everyone knows the first cleantech go-round was a bust, so if you’re staying in the game, how do you plan to win?

  • New Energy Capital is staying away from innovation, focusing its capital on financing the deployment of bankable technologies.
  • Clean Energy Venture Fund is seeking early-stage investment opportunities that have the potential for (relative) near-term exits—possibly even before the innovation has even been fully commercialized.

And Clean Energy Trust… we continue to push forward with our 501vcTM investment strategy to fund early-stage innovation with our revolving evergreen fund with the goal of creating a self-sustaining venture model that funds itself. And speaking of that… applications are now open for the 2018 investment cycle! Entrepreneurs and researchers based in the Midwest are invited to submit their cleantech startups for the opportunity to join Clean Energy Trust’s growing investment portfolio. . Applications will close on January 12. 

I think it’s great to have so many investors now approaching cleantech with new, different models. Ultimately the key to successfully commercializing cleantech innovation is the alignment of appropriate capital. To do so, we need a diverse set of investors focused on a slice of the action. With all these new funding resources, I’m feeling as energized as a fully charged battery. Cleantech 2.0 is well on its way to deliver the disruptive change our society needs. 

 

By Paul Seidler | December 22, 2017