Monday, October 14, 2013

Alfidi Capital Attends Cleantech Open Western Region Innovation Showcase 2013

I can't get enough cleantech action.  My participation in the Cleantech Open as a mentor enabled me to attend last week's Western Region Innovation Showcase for 2013.  I am very impressed with one of the startups that participated in CTO this year:  RePower Capital, a matching service connecting institutional investors with commercial-scale renewable energy projects.  The other startups at the showcase addressed energy management, environmental remediation, manufacturing, and other sectors.  It's good to know that CTO has now found a permanent home at Xerox's PARC.

Notable local officials were out in force to tout California's business appeal.  The mayor of Fremont mentioned the city's foreign trade zone and expedited permitting.  Think Silicon Valley and the Fremont Chamber of Commerce have more details for those of you considering setting up shop.  Other cities in California have jumped on the innovation bandwagon ever since San Francisco proclaimed itself the "Innovation Capital of the World" and Fremont's FAST Innovation district strategy is the latest one I've seen.

Nancy Pfund from DBL Investors gave the morning keynote.  Her portfolio includes Pandora and Tesla Motors, so she knows what she's talking about.  She believes Tesla's success disproves the myth that payback on a cleantech investment takes forever.  Her experience indicates that cleantech investments can hedge other investments that have regulatory difficulties (I'm thinking hydrocarbon energy and petrochemical manufacturing).  Check out Bloomberg New Energy Finance to see continuing investment flows in the cleantech sector.  The WilderHill Clean Energy Index (ECO) is the benchmark that Nancy and other cleantech investors use when figuring whether their portfolios are outperforming other broad market indexes.  Nancy noted that Elon Musk proves that superstar cleantech executives can become pop culture icons.  One other resource she mentioned was PWC's Money Tree report on VC investing, which I'm sure is very useful to startups that want to find the most active VC funds seeking deals.

The policy panel was next, featuring more politically savvy Californians.  They noted that the California Public Utilities Commission's renewable portfolio standards (RPS) created a market for renewables, and that cap-and-trade regimes will fund development fulfilling the RPS.  Policy change has a very long incubation time and policymakers need the business community's input.  I'm pretty sure the organized labor community won't want to hear that but IMHO that's what it takes to make California more competitive.  They noted that municipalities have a role in developing infrastructure that makes an area an attractive place to work.  I immediately thought about plans to extend BART's reach to San Jose but freight rail links are also important.
I see two major areas for improvement based on what the policy folks had to say about wanting engagement from investors and entrepreneurs.  First, the cleantech sector is probably underrepresented among the lobbying efforts in Washington DC and Sacramento.  The Apollo Alliance, which helped write the ARRA stimulus/recovery/pork barrel package, has morphed into the BlueGreen Alliance and has Washington's attention.  OpenSecrets is a good place to find out whether the cleantech sector is making a level of campaign contributions that will get politicians interested.  Second, local governments and chambers of commerce can do a lot more to promote startup incubators and accelerators.  I linked to the Fremont Chamber of Commerce above but I don't know whether their representatives attended.  I suspect that some Bay Area chambers of commerce aren't aware that incubators exist and need corporate sponsors.

I couldn't stay for the afternoon program because I had another commitment in San Francisco.  My work isn't done after mentoring CTO startups.  I'm going to put startup accelerators on the radar of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.  There's enough corporate representation in that chamber to interest a startup seeking funding, and there's enough tech in CTO participants to interest corporate venture investors.

Full disclosure:  No position in any companies mentioned at this time.