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Looking for CalCEF Angel Fund?

We previously had some some problems with our servers at CalCEF Angel Fund, but you can now find the new website at CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund.

The CalCEF Clean Energy Angel Fund is a seed and early stage venture capital fund dedicated to clean energy. The Fund deploys deep industry networks and experience to support capital-efficient companies focusing on renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, and related products and services. The Fund objective is to deliver venture capital returns to Limited Partners from investments which transform the clean energy economy. 

Fund investments include Lumetric Lighting (energy efficient industrial lighting), Allopartis Biotechnologies (enzyme optimization), Alphabet Energy (industrial waste heat recovery using silicon), Reel Solar (stealth ultra-low cost thin film photovoltaics), and Boulder Ionics (ionic liquid electrolytes for energy storage).

Co-investors include Claremont Creek Ventures, CMEA, JSR Corporation, Mayfield Fund, Nth Power, Pangaea Ventures, Sempra Utilities, Texas Pacific Group, and X/Seed Capital.

Limited Partners include large pension funds, fund-of-funds, global retail wealth managers, foundations, prominent law firms, family offices, angel investors, and and our founding limited partner the California Clean Energy Fund.

The CalCEF Angel fund offers Limited Partners an unprecedented degree of transparency and hands-on participation in the fund.  The team includes Susan Preston and Paul Fox.

For further information, please use the contact page of this website.


Advice for international companies seeking US investment

Khimji Vaghjiani, CEO of Solar Gem visited me in February. Khimji is an Australian solar entrepreneur with his eyes on developing markets. He was in the US as part of the annual G'Day USA showcase of Australian technology.

Khimji posted his learnings here: Six things you should know before meeting with a US venture capitalist (Anthill Magazine).  His post is based in meetings with US investors and his experience with the ANZA Technology Network program.

Bottom Line: If you want US venture capital investment, then become a "US" company (but keep the stuff that makes you great).


We're back!

The Semiconductor Industry Association just reported that semiconductor sales rose 17% quarter on quarter. That is great news as semiconductors are a bell weather for downstream sales in the high tech industry.  The ordering lead times on semiconductors (sometimes as much as 3-4 months) mean that buyers are planning for growth.

Another good sign is the widely reported uptick in clean-tech investing in the second quarter.  Although early stage investing continues to be the best bet until economic visibility improves. Companies raising B & C rounds will still find it tough.  Funds from the US stimulus should also start flowing in this half of the year.

Bottom Line: Looks like tech is coming back, and green-tech will be a strong sector. But don't pop the champagne corks just yet - you will still need to conserve cash as we struggle out of this.


Grid scale energy storage: the hottest market that doesn't exist.

I have been following the energy storage area for some time, having led a fuel cell start-up, helped commercialize portable technologies, and worked on thermal storage.

Recently I attended a Berkeley-Stanford Cleantech Conference on “Energy Storage: Enhancing the Value of Renewables”. The organizers put together a great event, although I would have liked to see more on competing technologies and real details on policy issues.  I can’t cover all the interesting conversation in this short post. Here is a short summary . . .  

The potential market looks attractive. Eric Wesoff of Green Tech Media presented a market estimate at $600 billion. Ed Cazalet of MegaWatt Storage Farms believes that California will need an additional 4GW of storage to meet demands of the 33% RPS in 2020. Nick Hodson of McKinsey said utilities would use storage if it was cheap enough, citing the example of Switzerland and Austria who have 11% and 17% storage capacity respectively, using pumped hydro.

The key words there are “cheap enough”. Haresh Kamath of EPRI drove that point home, saying the big three issues with existing technologies are cost, cost and cost. Although Ed Cazalet of MegaWatt Storage Farms believes that $/W comparisons on a “name plate” basis can be misleading because the fast response and peaking capacity of batteries meant that their real capacity could be double their name plate.

On the other hand, grid scale energy storage also competes with demand response and energy efficiency, which can be extremely cost effective, further underlining the importance of low cost.

As in much of cleantech, policy trumps technology (as pointed out by Eric). A key issue is the structural lack of ownership of the problems that storage will solve. Moreover, Ed pointed out, if utilities are allowed to include storage in their rate base that may skew the market against independent storage providers. The good news is that storage is now on the policy agenda and some US stimulus funds are on the way.

So where to invest? Marianne Wu of MDV was frustrated by limited research at grid scale, the small number of companies, and the small pool of talent which understands the technology and the market requirements and has experience in cost down and scaling.

Bottom Line: Personally I would advocate a back to basics approach on product-marketing and product management. Understand the customer requirements throughout the life cycle, match the technology to the most attractive market, and build for low cost. Talk to the operations people not the just the R&D department. The thought leaders can often help solidify and define customer requirements in a nascent market. Design for usability, manufacturability and cost from the start.

Foot note: GE just announced they are going to make NaS batteries at a new plant in Niskayuna, NY.


Stimulus: the truth comes out at CalCEF event

In recent weeks I have been to several events purporting to help greentech entrepreneurs access stimulus funds, i.e. the funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). To give you an idea of scale of the stimulus, ARRA is twice the size of both the Federal Highways program and the Apollo program.

Well . . . on Monday I finally went to an event, entitled Demystifying the Stimulus Package, where the speakers actually knew what they were talking about. 

Congratulations to CalCEF for organizing a great event with knowledgeable and well researched presentations and panels. There are some reviews of the CalCEF event at Greentech Media here and here

I was interested to learn about the timetable. There is considerable pressure to start stimulating the economy and creating jobs quickly.  Most of the funds are to be spent over the next 2-3 years, but many programs extend beyond 2011.  According to Matt Rogers, the man at the DoE responsible for shovelling the money out the door, the timetable for obligating the money is: 

  • Memorial Day (25 May) - 10% obligated
  • Labor Day (7 Sep) - 50% obligated
  • 30 Sep - 70% obligated

He also said that the first block of ARPA-E bids are due mid June with additional rounds in Q4 2009 and Q2 2010.

Meanwhile in California, the CEC is responsible for doling out much of the Federal money allocated to California. Martha Krebs of the CEC said solicitations were unlikely until August 2009.

Back in 2006 we sucessfully bid for $11 million in DoE funds for Zenergy/SC Power, after several attempts. I was also involved in previous PIER and DoE bids at Zenergy, Flextronics and my fuel cell company. We had some experienced partners and learned from our mistakes.

My advice?  

  • Is government money is the right thing for you?
    • Do you have finance to meet the cost share?
    • Do you have the band-width to manage the project?
    • Can you handle the administration?
    • Will the 2-3 year program fit your R&D or product development cycle? 
  • Build long-term relationships with DoE program staff.
  • Take the opportunity to shape the programs before the FOA is issued.
  • Partner with credible organisations.
  • Understand the rules around foreign participation, but don't assume it can't be done.
  • Address the selection criteria.
  • Differentiate your bid.
  • Don't leave it until the last moment.

 Bottom Line: Start early and pick your partners (including those consultants and attorneys) carefully.