Cleantech VC Hemant Taneja Moves to Bay Area, Talks Investment Strategy at General Catalyst

2/17/11Follow @gthuang

A proverbial giant has left the cleantech stage here in Boston—though he probably wouldn’t admit any part of that statement.

Hemant Taneja, a managing director at General Catalyst Partners in Cambridge, MA, has moved to the San Francisco Bay Area this week. Taneja is one of the top venture capitalists in the energy sector. Beyond investing, he has been a champion of the local cleantech industry as a founder of the New England Clean Energy Council. He also helped write the Massachusetts Green Jobs Act of 2008 and serves on the board of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

Reached by phone yesterday, Taneja said he has moved his family to the West Coast but is keeping a home in the Boston area as well. He joins fellow managing director Neil Sequeira (another recent Boston transplant) and a small team of associates at General Catalyst’s Palo Alto, CA, office, which opened in the past half-year. (You can read more about these VC moves here and here; in addition, Silicon Valley VC Jonathan Teo, formerly at Benchmark Capital, recently joined General Catalyst in New York.)

So, is Taneja’s departure a blow to the New England cleantech industry? “I hope not,” he says. “A, I’m not that big a deal. And B, we’re continuing to remain active on the East Coast. We’ll tag team.” Taneja says he’ll split his time between Boston and the Bay Area, as roughly half his investments are on each coast.

Some more background: Taneja is a recovering mobile software veteran who converted to cleantech about five years ago. Before joining General Catalyst in 2002, he was the founder and CEO of Boston mobile startup Isovia (acquired by JP Mobile). He co-founded JumpTap and also previously sat on the board of m-Qube. In the past few years, he has focused mostly on building energy companies, serving on the boards of ARC Energy, Mascoma, Modular Wind, Stion, and SunBorne Energy, among other firms.

I asked about his original move from software to cleantech, and about a more recent trend I’ve been hearing about—that software investors who dabbled in energy are now flocking back to software. “We saw a lot of entrepreneurs and academics moving into the [energy] sector, and our job is to follow the smartest people,” Taneja says. “A ton of people jumped into the sector, and some investors got burned because they were looking at technologies that were way too risky for venture capital. Some of those folks are going back to IT—and it’s an interesting space.”

As for General Catalyst, he says, “We are sticking to our allocation to energy. We’re optimistic the sector will be good for us.” The firm’s most recent energy deal—a growth-stage investment in Texas-based energy efficiency firm CLEAResult—came to light earlier this week in a Boston Globe report. CLEAResult, a bootstrapped and profitable company with 300 employees, is in the process of hiring a small Boston-area team, and should help “bring their best practices and grow the energy efficiency market here,” Taneja says.

General Catalyst looks to invest in energy companies that can build a real business (in the U.S. and global markets) within seven to 10 years, he says. But its deals run the gamut from early-stage startups—like ARC Energy in New Hampshire, which has grown from six employees to 60 since GC invested—to later-stage businesses like CLEAResult, Taneja says.

The VC firm also invests in project development work by financing the operating companies, such as SunBorne and C12 Energy. One pitfall that GC tries to avoid: focusing on markets that rely heavily on policy, such as carbon credits, to build a business.

Coming back to New England’s cleantech cluster, Taneja says prospects are looking very bright for the future. “There’s more stuff coming out of universities, and the state [government] is doing a lot of work,” he says. “I believe there’s strong opportunity locally.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.