Cleantech Becoming ‘Third Leg’ of VC Investing Stool—But Just How Big is That Leg?

4/30/10Follow @bvbigelow

When Ira Ehrenpreis came through San Diego a couple of weeks ago, the cleantech investment partner at Palo Alto, CA-based Technology Partners said there was no such thing as a cleantech investment category when his firm began investing 25 years ago. At that time, Technology Partner’s investments in environmentally friendly technologies amounted to less than 1 percent of the firm’s portfolio.

In contrast, VCs invested $100 million in cleantech deals during the first week of 2010, according to Ehrenpreis. Even during the credit crisis and nationwide recession, cleantech has shown over the past two years that it’s an enduring sector. Ehrenpreis told the San Diego Venture Group that cleantech is emerging as “the third leg of venture capital, along with IT and the life sciences”—which traditionally represent the two largest VC investment categories.

Other analysts emphatically agreed.

But it is difficult to quantify just how big cleantech has gotten, because it is measured by different investment monitoring organizations in fundamentally different ways.

For example, the National Venture Capital Association (NVCA) and PricewaterhouseCoopers count renewable energy and many energy deals as cleantech investments in their quarterly MoneyTree Report. Also included are VC investments in air filters, purification and monitoring equipment; water treatment and waste disposal systems, and a dozen other environmentally oriented categories. But Dow Jones VentureSource counts energy and utility deals separately from cleantech deals in its surveys—and uses its own list of nearly a dozen industries to define what cleantech is.

The San Francisco-based Cleantech Group says it coined the term “cleantech” when the firm was founded in 2002 and it began analyzing VC investments in energy efficiency, biofuels, transportation, and other clean and green technologies as a distinct sector. The group specializes in cleantech market research and business intelligence, and its cleantech data has been screened and honed to perfection. But you can’t compare it with the NVCA or Dow Jones data, because the group combines its cleantech investment data for the U.S. with the countries of Central America, Mexico, Canada as part of the North America Region.

In North America, cleantech startups raised $3.5 billion in 298 VC investments last year, a 42 percent decline from 2008, when there were 314 deals, according to the Cleantech Group.

The MoneyTree Report, which counts only … 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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