cleantech insights

Cleantech’s Start-Up Nation: Come Join Us In Israel

Greg Neichin

(Want to skip to the punchline? If you are already sold on Israel’s energy and cleantech innovation potential and want to join us on this year’s Cleantech Tour of Israel in late October/early November, click here to let us know that you are interested and we’ll be in touch with more details)

When Richard Youngman and I led the Cleantech Group’s first official executive tour of Israel back in 2011, it felt as if we were still letting people in on a well-kept secret.  While much of the business world had read Start-Up Nation and was well versed in Israel’s overall technology prowess, the country’s cleantech ecosystem was still a bit off the radar.  Yes, the bi-annual WATEC show was a must on the calendar for all water technology investors, but few were familiar with the rich depth of companies in energy efficiency, energy storage, transportation, solar, smart grid, waste, biofuels, and more.

Fast forward to 2013 and the cat is very much out of the bag.  In 2012, we named Israel the #2 country in the world in our 2012 Global Cleantech Country Innovation Index (bested only by similarly small and scrappy Denmark).  Then last month at our


Oil & Gas Innovation Summit Surfaces Three Key Themes for the Sector

Greg Neichin

Cleantech Group convened its first official Oil & Gas Innovation Summit on May 8-9, 2013, in Calgary, Canada, in partnership with the Government of Canada, Cenovus Energy, General Electric, and Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC). This small, invite-only gathering brought together some of the most important companies in the Canadian Oil Sands and a number of the world’s Oil & Gas majors to discuss the evolving ecosystem of venture-driven innovation in the sector, as well as to evaluate eight early-stage startups that we handpicked to present to the audience on diverse topics including upgrading, water treatment, and pipeline technologies. Based on strong feedback in favor of reconvening this group annually, if not more frequently, we are already planning a second Summit in 2014 and are exploring new formats to create additional value for the attendees. (Please let us know if you’d like to help guide this process!)

Over the course of this two-day event, three key themes stood out – together they point toward an overarching need to develop a collective vision for external innovation in the Oil & Gas sector and to build deeper alignment between all constituents within the ecosystem.

  • Corporates must continue to clarify their strategic objectives.

It’s a Wrap: SF Forum 2013, Our Best Yet

Greg Neichin

After some well deserved toasts with our staff and a few good night’s sleep, I have finally begun to digest the amazing week that we just had in San Francisco.  I have had the pleasure of co-hosting Cleantech Group’s San Francisco Forum for the past three years, yet none of those previous gatherings came close to the energy and dynamism of this year’s event.

I have to admit that the turnout and enthusiasm surprised even me.  This was supposed to be a year that cleantech was down and out.  With venture support cooling, solar manufacturers failing, and the global economy still sputtering, this would not, on the face of it, be the best time to throw a cleantech party.

But throw a party we did; and much to our delight and sincere appreciation, you all showed up.  Not only did you grab a glass of champagne, but investors announced new capital commitments, corporate dealmakers spoke openly about opportunity areas, and entrepreneurs from around the world unveiled brand new companies.

What gives? With some time to reflect, I think that there were four key drivers that really ignited this year’s Forum.

#1 – Corporate strategics get it and are playing

Reigniting Cleantech: Top 5 Reasons for a Post Bubble Party

Greg Neichin

(if you don’t make it to the end of this article and just want to know where the party is, it’s March 18th-20th in San Francisco, you can register here)

It is quite fashionable these days, especially amongst those in and around Silicon Valley, to talk about the demise of cleantech.  This discussion has always seemed silly to me.

There are only two groups fascinated by this dialogue: (a) US investors who were burned in deals that they likely should not have touched in the first place and (b) industry pundits & consultants with too much time on their hands.  Both of these groups are frustrated and vocal, so they create substantial noise, but far less signal.

As Khosla Venture’s Andrew Chung recently said, in a thoughtful piece by Katie Fehrenbacher covering the “cleantech is dead” meme, “venture is a highly cyclical business”.  You could say that again.  Andrew continued, “we expect sustainability investments to experience a renaissance as today’s breakthrough companies successfully commercialize and have massive impact on society’s infrastructure.”

Call it sustainability investments, energy tech, resource tech, cleantech, or greentech.  Call it whatever else you want to call it, just don’t call it

Big News. We Are Merging With GreenOrder!

Greg Neichin

Dear friends, family, and colleagues who have only heard from me sporadically during the last month,

I want to sincerely apologize and finally explain why your emails and voicemails have sat unreturned beneath a mountain of backlog.  The truth is that we have been furiously scrambling to the finish line of what is a genuinely transformative corporate deal!!

Today, we are announcing the merger of Cleantech Group with GreenOrder, one of the best-known sustainability consulting firms in the country.  Together we will become one, new company dedicated to uniting the worlds of sustainability and cleantech innovation.

I will spare you a discussion of “synergies” and other press approved corporate-speak (you can find the official press release here if that type of stuff interests you).  I will get to the heart of why I am so excited about the potential for our newly formed company.

#1 We will make cleantech more relevant in corporate boardrooms: Helping to lead the Cleantech Group over the past three years, I have had a ringside seat to watch the clean technology sector develop.  I have watched breakthrough products come to life only to find them relegated to small, pilot demonstrations.  I have seen renewable …

“Don’t-call-it-cleantech” cleantech investors

Greg Neichin

One of last quarter’s highest profile cleantech deals, agriculture optimization software developer Solum’s $17M round of financing, was led by an investor that apparently was not interested in doing cleantech deals. Andreessen Horowitz, a firm closely associated with consumer internet hits such as Twitter, Skype, Zynga, and GroupOn, led the round with Kleiner Perkins.  This after firm founder Marc Andreessen had previously declared that the fund would not be investing in “cleantech”.

Last week’s latest addition to the camp of cleantech investors who swear that they don’t invest in cleantech is Index Ventures.  Back in June, the firm closed on a new $440M fund.  In an interview with Fortune, Index Partner Mike Volpi declared, “We looked at a lot of [cleantech] deals but didn’t think that many had the same potential as tech deals, because they relied too much on subsidies. We did a couple, including a tire recycling company, but I wouldn’t say that it’s still a focus.”

It may not be a focus, but last week Index put more cleantech money into that “tire recycling company”, otherwise known as Lehigh Technologies as the company raised $16M from Index, Kleiner Perkins, Leaf Clean Energy, and others.

In April, GigaOM …

Tropos Networks: A Mirror On Ourselves

Greg Neichin

Don’t make the story about yourself.

This is an old adage that journalism professors telling aspiring reporters.  Luckily, I’m not a reporter, so I can ignore that advice.

The story of Tropos Networks, which was successfully acquired recently by ABB, is a story about me.  In fact, it’s a story about many of us and that, to me, is what makes it so compelling.

It is a story of how technologies & executives originally groomed in the hype to reality cycle of the datacom and software world found their way into the cleantech sector only to find themselves on a similar roller coaster journey.  In the case of Tropos, as I hope for many of us, I think this story has a happy and productive ending.

Tropos Networks was born during the first boom in early 2001.  This is when I, a fresh Silicon Valley transplant, first became aware of the company.  I was working in the datacom equipment business for Redback Networks on Strategy & Business Development when I had the chance to meet early Tropos investor Curtis Feeny at Voyager Capital.  At the time, a calm before-the-storm moment in history, Tropos had a vision for building …

The Shameless Politics of Military Biofuels

Greg Neichin

Outside of the office, and outside the lines of a professional forum such as this blog, I admittedly love talking politics.  I always have, and as excruciatingly frustrating as it is sometimes, I probably always will.

At the same time, I have tried to leave that game at home.  I genuinely believe that the long-term growth of the cleantech sector is tied to a number of underlying, inevitable shifts that are apolitical.  Aging & failing infrastructure must eventually be replaced, diverse resource shortages – from water to minerals to food – must be addressed, and toxic pollution – that represents a real and significant health risk in increasingly crowded and urban environments – must be mitigated.

For these reasons, I try to stay above the political fray and focus mainly on how commercial landscapes are developing.  That is until politicians act so egregiously wrong that it is impossible to not address the situation.   This week is one of those weeks.  As Rob Day wrote in response to the attempts by Republicans on the U.S. Senate Armed Service Committee’s to block U.S. military spending on biofuels programs:

This simply should not be a partisan political issue. It’s not even a

The Internet of (Big) Things

Greg Neichin

Those of us fond of exploring the world of emerging opportunities at the intersection of cleantech and computing power often talk about the Internet of Things.  When he first coined the term in 1999, Kevin Ashton prophetically wrote:

If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best. The Internet of Things has the potential to change the world, just as the Internet did. Maybe even more so.

I share Kevin’s sentiment that the Internet of Things has the potential to be world changing, but I find it is increasingly important to define what “things” we are talking about.  The world is obviously full of inanimate machines from huge to microscopic and tracking all of these disparate devices would require varying levels of investment, networks, and data crunching capabilities.

The topic was on my mind this week as I reflected on two new deals we tracked in i3 that represented opposite ends of the …

The Quarter That Was: Outsourced Reflection

Greg Neichin

Given the pace at which the business world moves these days, there is often not enough time for thoughtful reflection.  It can be all too easy to get lost in last week’s meetings and next week’s deadlines and to completely miss the forest for the trees.  With the amount of information that we all try to consume on a daily basis, it is easy to mistake a headline for a trend, hyperbole for fact.

Luckily, that’s where we come in.  Consider us your “Outsourced Reflection”.  Every quarter, for the past 7 years, we have published a comprehensive quarterly manifesto – Cleantech Group’s Quarterly Investment Monitor.  Frankly, I think that this exercise is more important than ever.  As we wrote in opening this edition:

2012 has started on a similar note [to the end of 2011] with a rising number of cleantech companies funded despite a continuing public and media fascination with the sector’s high profile failures. In responding to erroneous press accounts of his own death, noted American author Mark Twain once wrote, “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” The same could be said of cleantech.

If all you read in the last three months was news of …