Cleantech Investors Desperately Seeking The Exit

In my predictions over the last year I mentioned that Clean Tech would have a rocky time in 2009 for four reasons

  1. Renewable energy interest tends to lag oil prices by 6-12 months and with oil almost back to 2006 levels a lot of transient interest will evaporate
  2. Lot’s of clean tech companies based their business models on sustained high oil and commodity prices – so a recalculation will reveal that they don’t stand a cats chance in hell of being profitable
  3. The stampede by Venture Capital into every clean tech deal going for the last two years has inflated valuations to levels that will never return any cash to investors – and that was before anyone took into account  recessions & pestilence
  4. As a result, VCs would find themselves locked into very expensive deals and have trouble shaking down their limited partners for the funds necessary to keep in the hunt

Don’t say you weren’t warned. It must be getting serious when even VCs are getting contrite – according to the New York Times:

David J. Prend, managing general partner at RockPort Capital in Boston and Menlo Park, Calif., said that the promise of big returns prompted too much “me-too investing,” when venture capitalists put money into start-ups that do the same work as other companies.

“There was probably some stuff that shouldn’t have been funded,” he said. “It’s kind of good for some of that to get washed out.” For clean tech to be a viable industry, investment should not return to recent highs, he said.

Mr. Vassallo blamed the credit crunch for the decline in clean-tech investing. More than half of clean-tech investments have been in alternative energy like solar and biofuels, which typically require building big factories. These projects depend on capital like project finance loans as well as tax equity investments, whereby corporations back green energy projects and reap the tax credits. These have been “frozen or completely disintegrated,” he said.

This is weird & spooky. Didn’t the same folks say the same thing about dot com investing, about nanotech and now clean tech? Are these the people we see rooted to spot, continually banging their heads against a wall crying “I know there was an exit here somewhere!”

Mark G. Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, prefers to call the clean-tech investment cycle “an education curve.”
Still, he said, “if the industry has gotten one criticism year after year, it’s that we have a lemming mentality, and solar probably represents that in the clean-tech space.”

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