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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

VCs and green entrepreneurs

At the Academy of Management (#AOM2010) conference this week in Montréal, one of the more lively sessions was a “caucus” on Monday entitled “ Venture Capital Investments in Cleantech: An Act of Passion or Another Bubble In-The-Making?”

As the title suggested, the audience of about 30 academics argued about the rationality of VC investments, how they might be studied by academics, and of course the underlying industry dynamics.

It was an interesting albeit disjointed discussion. Imagine 15 smart (but perhaps undisciplined) people having a series of a stream of consciousness monologues (while the other 15 sat and watched). Still, this was probably the most concentrated grouping of management academics interested in cleantech entrepreneurship anywhere at the conference. Since most of the VC (at least by $) has gone to solar, this was also a RE/EE discussion.

Not all of the discussion was about VC. (Since I don’t personally study VCs, I only think about them in the context of the availability of funds for startups.) Some of the discussion was about more basic questions of studying cleantech startups.

My own question was about how SIC/NAICS doesn’t capture cleantech industries — the so-called “cleantech sector” — nor will it until the next revision of NAICS. (Cleantech seems no more a sector than nanotech.) The answer seemed to be that various “experts” have made databases by hand that they claim capture the entire industry. (Desiree Pacheco of Portland State seemed to be the most knowledgeable here, and had clearly been down this road before.)

The session was organized by Eva Yao (Colorado), Antoaneta Petkova (SF State), Sanjay Jain (Santa Clara) and Anu Wadhwa (EPFL). They have an (in progress) study that shows that high status VCs invested first in cleantech, and the room offered a bunch of possible explanations (such as the bigger VCs have more scale, more status and more slack).

In addition to Toni and Sanjay, the Bay Area was also represented by Geoff Desa of SFSU, Gregory Theyel of GreenVisions and CSU East Bay and of course yours truly. Colorado is a hopping place for renewable energy entrepreneurship, but my hunch is that overall California has the rest of the country beat.

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