Five to watch in the Business of Green
With government money flowing and traditional industries fading, 2009 is set to be a watershed year for green business. Reuters News and Venture Capital Journal have selected five decisionmakers who will help to decide the course of technology, energy usage and climate change in the years to come.
Founder, Khosla Ventures
Khosla grew up dreaming of being an entrepreneur, despite spending his childhood up in an Indian Army household with no business or technology connections. He eventually became a founder of Sun Microsystems and then joined legendary venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.
In 2004, Khosla, driven by the need for flexibility to accommodate four teenage children and a desire to be more experimental, formed Khosla Ventures, funded entirely with family funds. His goals remain the same – work and learn from fun and knowledgeable entrepreneurs, build impactful companies through the leverage of innovation, and spend time as a partnership making a difference. He has made investments in companies working on waste water and water desalinization, solar, geothermal and cellulosic ethanol.
- IPO VIEW-Green tech cos waiting for market to open up
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Director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org
Reicher wants to conquer the Valley of Death — the seemingly insurmountable funding gap for unproven green technologies. The former Clinton administration Energy Department official is putting Google’s philanthropic funds behind a range of possible breakthroughs, including $10 million for geothermal, but also solar thermal and high-altitude wind power. Two early recipients of Google.org’s largesse were geothermal firms AltaRock Energy and Potter Drilling Inc.
More recently, Reicher has promoted Google’s free software that lets consumers track home electricity use and improve energy efficiency.
- Google looking to invest in energy sector
- Lack of new power lines threatens renewable growth
- Investors take on green energy’s “Valley of Death”
Managing Director, Draper Fisher Jurvetson
Fonstad’s interests span a broad set of technology and life sciences companies, including cleantech. One of the investments that helped make her #89 on the Forbes Midas List is GreenFuel Technologies, which takes carbon dioxide produced by power plants and feeds it to algae, which are then converted into biofuel. Before becoming a champion of a particular entrepreneur, Fonstad considers a number of factors in evaluating a potential investment opportunity, such as whether the company has a strong technical team with clear breakout capability, experience and a real passion for re-inventing the world.
“This means we are making bets on people first and foremost and we are making bets on our judgment about market spaces that are emerging,” she says. Forbes notes that she “once escaped kidnappers while working in Russia by jumping out of a moving car; and closed a deal while in labor with her first child.”
CEO, Solar City
Solar City was dubbed “the Swiss arms dealer” of solar installation by VentureBeat, although “Swiss army knife” might be more like it. The company sells, leases, installs and maintains solar panels for residences and small businesses, with a sideline in energy efficiency consulting. The idea is to convince geographic clusters of homes and businesses to go solar, and then reap cost savings from economies of scale.
The company’s venture background is impeccable: Rive sold an earlier software company to Dell, and Solar City is backed by Elon Musk of PayPal fame, who happens to be Rive’s cousin. And if the switch away from fossil fuels fails, and the polar ice caps melt, Rive has a hedge — he’s a member of the U.S. Underwater Hockey team.
Wal-Mart senior vice president for sustainability
The world’s largest retailer may not have the greenest of corporate images, but its sheer size ensures that its initiatives will have an outsize impact on the global economy. Matt Kistler is the public face of Wal-Mart’s sustainability efforts, from curbing plastic bag use — aimed at cutting plastic bag waste by a third by 2013, equal to 9 billion bags a year — to reaching new fuel efficiency targets for its massive truck fleet.
The efforts of Wal-Mart and Kistler, a former marketer, are not only aimed at burnishing its corporate image and trimming costs, but also to cater to green-conscious consumers, as with its private label coffee brand, certified by Fair Trade.
(Additional reporting by Nichola Groom)