Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Three Events at MIT: Financial Crisis, Energy Debate, Energy Night

Let me point you to three excellent (free) events at MIT, happening this week and next.

The first is a panel discussion called 'Perspectives on the Current Financial Crisis,' Thursday at 5:30 in the Wong Auditorium.

The second, coming up on Monday, is the only Presidential debate being held in the Boston area. Well, it's a debate between two surrogates for the Obama and McCain campaigns. They'll be talking about energy policy. That's at the Kresge Auditorium, Monday at 7:30 PM.

The third, at the MIT Museum next Friday night, is MIT Energy Night, organized by the MIT Energy Club. It features 40 demos from MIT research groups and spin-off companies. From Patti Richards at the MIT News office:

    "Highlights include presentations/demos by the following
    - Bicycle powered laptop
    - $25K X Prize "Crazy Green Idea"
    - New floating wind turbine system
    - MIT Electric Vehicle Team"

Labels: , ,

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Career Opps in Cleantech, and the Most Significant Cleantech VC Firms in Boston

Today's Globe column deals with people moving into cleantech from other fields. From the opening:

    In the late 1990s, everyone wanted to be part of the Internet revolution. Now, there's a similar level of enthusiasm building around companies tackling the world's energy challenges. And many people from the biotech, software, and hardware fields are seeking out - and finding - opportunities to make a career switch.

In the video, Peter Rothstein and Jim Matheson of Flagship Ventures talk about how to navigate that switch:

While working on the piece, I asked everyone I spoke with who the most significant cleantech VC firms in the Boston area are. Here's the list (in alphabetical order, not in order of significance), and who the point person is where there's one primary energy-oriented partner.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, July 25, 2008

Highland Capital: We Do Cleantech Now, Too

Paul Maeder, co-founder of Highland Capital Partners, was a guest on NPR's 'Talk of the Nation' yesterday, analyzing the state of the economy. Maeder used the radio spot, essentially, to announce that Highland's now interested in doing energy and cleantech investments. In talking about innovation in the post-war period, Maeder suggested that there have been three major cycles:

    1. The personal computer in the 1980s
    2. The biotech boom of the 1990s
    3. The Internet bubble of the late 1990s

"The next wave of innovation is going to be around energy and the environment," Maeder said, suggesting that there are big opportunities in "energy production, and making energy consumption more efficient."

I e-mailed Maeder this morning to ask him whether Highland is planning to actually dedicate money and partner time to the cleantech/energy space, as Polaris and General Catalyst have. He said they are, and that he's "on it full-time now."

Highland's only real cleantech investment so far was a Utah company called Amp Resources, which developed geothermal power generation facilities; Amp was sold last year for $90 million to an Italian company, Enel. (An earlier deal to sell Amp didn't go so well.) Maeder and Dan Nova from Highland had served on Amp's board.

As a side note, I spotted Highland's other founder, Bob Higgins, having breakfast this week with ex-Presidential advisor and Harvard prof David Gergen. As for whether Gergen will be joining Highland as a venture partner, Maeder would only say, "I can neither confirm or deny." But I think that's a long, long-shot.

Labels: , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Gov. Patrick: Let's Crack the Energy Crisis

Gov. Deval Patrick writes about the state's new energy law in today's Globe:

    Our vision capitalizes on the Commonwealth's natural advantages in technology and entrepreneurship to combat rising energy costs and satisfy the need for new, clean, affordable ways to meet energy needs - creating a whole new industry along the way.

Later, he mentions a few companies by name:

    ...A123 Systems in Watertown, which is developing batteries for plug-in hybrid cars to enable them to get up to 150 miles per gallon; Evergreen Solar, which is set to open a new solar-panel manufacturing facility in Devens, encouraged in part by the state's new rebate program for solar electricity installations, Commonwealth Solar; Mascoma in Cambridge and Sun Ethanol in Amherst, two leaders in cellulosic biofuel, the non-petroleum, non-food-based fuel of the future, which will get a boost from a gas-tax exemption now pending in the Legislature, the first of its kind in the country; and GreatPoint Energy, a Cambridge firm now demonstrating its innovative technology for turning coal and biomass into clean-burning natural gas at the Brayton Point power plant in Somerset.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The A123 Systems IPO: Signed, Sealed ... But Not Yet Delivered

Two unnamed sources with close ties to A123 Systems, the Watertown maker of next-gen lithium ion batteries for Black and Decker cordless tools and plug-in hybrid cars, tell me that the company's IPO filing is essentially complete. Once the first quarter numbers are finalized, an S-1 is likely to arrive in the SEC's inbox sometime in the next month or so. The offering could value the company at more than $1 billion. Road show is planned for September; Goldman, JP Morgan, and Merrill are underwriting, I'm told.

A123 Systems has raised more than $150 million since it was founded in 2001. Among the biggest winners from a successful IPO would be North Bridge Venture Partners and Sycamore Networks chairman Desh Deshpande. (North Bridge has a cool video case study on A123.) Sequoia Capital and General Electric are also investors.

Will Wall Street have an appetite for a battery IPO in September? We'll see...

A123 Systems' PR rep, Keith Watson, says, "The company can't comment on anything related to an IPO."

(In the photo is George W. Bush with A123 CEO David Vieau, standing next to a plug-in hybrid Prius that A123's Hymotion division converted. White House photo by Paul Morse.)

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

You Heard It Here First: $300K in Prizes for MIT Entrepreneurs

As this blog suggested back in September, the prize money at MIT's entrepreneurship competitions has leapt from $100,000 to $300,000, with the addition of a $200,000 prize for "Clean Energy Entrepreneurship".

Money comes from NStar and the US Dept. of Energy. Prize, according to Robert Gavin of the Globe, "will go to the team that develops and presents the best plan for commercializing alternative energy products and services."

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Combating Global Warming: Last night's MIT Enterprise Forum

Last night I was at a meeting of the MIT Enterprise Forum of Cambridge that focused on "How Innovative Businesses are Combating Global Warming."

Ian Bowles, Massachusetts' secretary of the executive office of energy and environmental affairs, opened the evening with an update from the State House. Bowles talks so fast I am pretty sure his compensation package has a words-per-minute clause. Very smart guy. But he predicted that we won't see any federal action on a carbon tax or CO2 emissions trading, either of which could help mitigate global warming, until the next Presidential administration.

I moderated a panel with Emily Kreps from Goldman Sachs, Daniel Goldman from Great Point Energy, Phillip Boyle from Powerspan, and Professor Daniel Schrag from Harvard. Schrag led things off with a short and dismaying PowerPoint overview of the latest data and projections about climate change: Houston, we have a problem.

Goldman talked about how his company is transforming coal into natural gas, and sequestering the CO2. Boyle explained how Powerspan removes acid-rain-causing pollutants from power plant emissions, and can also sequester CO2. And Schrag explained some of the thinking related to "global dimming" -- figuring out ways to reflect sunlight before the earth's atmosphere absorbs the heat. He's concerned that some country might decide unilaterally to try a global dimming experiment, with dangerous effects, since we don't know enough about how climate works.

The panelists all agreed with Bowles that we're not likely to see any federal implementation of something like the Lieberman-Warner bill soon, which would cap emissions and reduce them over time.

I suggested that citizen action is what's needed, given that we have a little more than a year before our next President takes office. Initiatives like Hull Wind and the CalCars plug-in hybrid movement work. Why wait for Washington to get moving?

Afterward, I met a bunch of entrepreneurs working on swell stuff.... Michael Chen is trying to develop wind farms in China...Jon Strimling from was explaining the benefits of using biomass fuels to heat one's home...and Benjamin Brown runs the Web site MakeMeSustainable.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Monday, October 15, 2007

Coming Up: Cool Events Around Boston

Some events that look good in the next week or so...

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Today's Globe Column: The Amazing Story Behind EnerNOC

If you're running a start-up and you need some motivation, today's column is especially for you. It's the story of EnerNOC, a company founded in the midst of the dot-com aftermath, in which the main lessons are about persistence and unshakable belief in one's ideas.

Here's the opening:

    The first time I met Tim Healy, at a cocktail party in 1999, he was an associate at Commonwealth Capital, a Waltham venture capital firm.

    The next time I bumped into Healy, at a cocktail party last month, the 38-year-old entrepreneur had taken his company, EnerNOC Inc., public on Nasdaq, and he was on his way to Manhattan to ring the stock market's closing bell.

    What happened in the intervening eight years is an entrepreneurial fairy tale.

(That makes it sound like all I do as a reporter is go to cocktail parties. Close to the truth..)

The video is below, in which Healy talks about the challenges he faced raising VC money, and how he tried to tilt the odds in his favor. There's also an e-mail message from Healy, when I asked him about a rumor that he funded the company, pre-VC, with credit cards.

During the process of working on today's column, I asked Healy how much credit card debt he accumulated. He responded via e-mail:

    For a variety of reasons, I don't give out how much debt we accumulated but I can tell you that at the time EnerNOC raised its Series A, I had approximately 17 different credit cards open by that point and I am pretty sure almost all of them had a balance. I can only imagine what David's personal situation looked like [David Brewster, Healy's co-founder] but we tried not to talk about the debt since talking about personal debt wasn't a whole lot of fun and we always believed it would be worth it in the long run. For a little while after we first got funded I couldn't really afford a place to live in Boston so I actually slept in my car and in my office for a month before a friend's place opened up and he graciously let me stay there for a while. I remember that I also bunked at another friend's place -- John Pepper's. The only reason I mention it is that John is the CEO and founder of the Boloco chain of restaurants in town (formerly The Wrap) and also a Tuck and Dartmouth grad so we shared a lot of early startup stories back then, keeping each other motivated and convincing one another we weren't crazy. After I allocated some friend and family stock to him in May, I feel as though I finally repaid him for those free nights and the great dinners his wife made me....needless to say, he's very happy now, since our stock is up and we just finished telling Wall Street about the great growth we see ahead. [EnerNOC's first quarterly conference call was this past week.]

Labels: , , , , , , ,