Kleiner Perkins’ Ellen Pao on Opportunities in Greentech Investing

11/17/09Follow @bvbigelow

I had an opportunity to sit down recently (along with several other journalists) for an informal chat with Ellen Pao, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and a member of the famed Menlo Park, CA, venture firm’s GreenTech investment team.

Pao was in town to be the keynote speaker at the inaugural Cleantech San Diego Showcase, an event the non-profit industry group intends to hold four times a year as a way of calling attention to emerging green technologies and the local companies developing them. Pao provided an overview of KPCB’s GreenTech team, which consists of 20 partners in the United States and China. The firm has invested about $680 million over the past five years in nearly 50 startup companies, most of which remain in stealth mode.

Pao was gracious, but not especially forthcoming. For example, she told us that KPCB’s greentech investments include funding San Diego-based V-Vehicle Co., which announced plans earlier this year to build a new line of “environmentally friendly and fuel-efficient” cars in Northeastern Louisiana. The green aspect of the V-Vehicle’s design apparently figures in the startup’s request for a $250 million low-interest loan under the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program. But V-Vehicle has not explained publicly how or why its car is eco-friendly, which has led to conflicting media reports (with some describing it as an electric vehicle). But Pao declined to explain why V-Vehicle is green, saying KPCB doesn’t talk about portfolio companies that are still in stealth mode—even though partners John Doerr and Ray Lane participated in a news conference that Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana held in June to announce the state’s support for the project.

Pao said KPCB’s cleantech investments are divided among startups that are focused in a variety of green categories, including energy efficiency, cars and transportation, batteries (especially companies developing new energy storage capabilities for electric utilities), renewable energy, and “carbon management and sequestration,” i.e., technologies for preventing carbon dioxide from wafting into the atmosphere by capturing the gas and piping it underground.

“There’s a lot of passion around trying to solve the global warming problem,” Pao said. “We’re looking, though, for big solutions. We have some projects, and we think it’s a big opportunity once there is a price on carbon.” She was referring to a “cap and trade” proposal put forward by the Obama Administration that would set strict limits on pollution that causes … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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  • JC

    I attended the meeting. Didn’t find Ms. Pao particurly informative or impressive. She certainly showcased her company’s investments, while remaining cagey at the same time.

    No doubt their green ‘concerns’ will translate into green investments.