Man on a Cleantech Mission: A VC Visits the U.K. (Days Three and Four)

6/12/08Follow @jmatheson

London, Cambridge, and Manchester: Tuesday and Wednesday, June 10-11 *

I am a day behind, so two days in one entry. We spent Tuesday morning at Imperial College London, then took an hour train ride to Cambridge for an evening event at St. Catherine’s College (one of 39 colleges at Cambridge). Wednesday, we were in Cambridge for the day before heading up to Manchester late in the day. It does not take more than a few hours traveling around England to figure out where nearly every town name in Massachusetts originates—the founders were either very homesick or not very creative. And we have taken to calling Cambridge, MA, “New Cambridge”…

Tuesday morning was focused on the U.S. contingent presenting a series of perspectives to a crowd of more than 100 folks gathered in a lecture hall at Imperial College London. Imperial is lesser known in the U.S. than Cambridge or Oxford, I would suspect, but it is very strong in engineering and science and has a strong cleantech orientation. It felt a bit like MIT in terms of the breadth of research and the commercial nature of the place. The Imperial tech licensing office actually “floated” (went public) on AIM, the Alternative Investment Market, a few years ago to provide capital to seed its more interesting projects, and it has done more than 70 such financings already. I found this very intriguing, but have not explored it enough yet to decide if it makes sense to replicate elsewhere.

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, we hopped the train up to Cambridge and I got to spend an hour or so talking with Tom Burton from Mintz Levin, who started and is leading their cleantech practice globally. I found it quite interesting to learn how he has thought about doing this and how that fits into the overall strategy of their firm. Mintz has a London office along with East and West Coast offices in the U.S., so is well-positioned for the global nature of cleantech. It reminded me how fortunate we are in the U.S. to have so much depth and dimension to our entrepreneurial clusters. This is a frequent observation from our U.K. hosts.

Tom and Patrick Kealy of Mintz were integral in setting up this trip and have done a great job of providing our U.K. hosts with perspectives on the U.S. regulatory and market dynamics. I have been talking about the capital flows and the New England innovation community (e.g., the New England Clean Energy Council) and Greg Watson & Karl Jessen have been laying out Massachusetts’s policies and initiatives to make it a world-class center of excellence in cleantech. Noel Brown, newly minted executive director of the MIT/Fraunhoffer Center was also with us until today when he headed over to Germany.

The day finished with a very special dinner at St. Catherine’s College dining hall with a large contingent of Cambridge University’s professors, tech transfer folks, and other U.K.-based cleantech leaders and government officials. The food was pretty good, but the setting and service were the highlights. We had an army of tuxedo-clad servers taking care of us in an obviously ancient dining room, and I found myself wishing I had worn a tie…

We then did some pub crawling … Next Page »

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