Solazyme Seeks $100M IPO to Build Up Renewable Biofuel Business

3/14/11Follow @xconomy

Solazyme, the South San Francisco-based maker of renewable biofuels that was started by a couple of college friends, is going to see just how much interest public investors have in their once “delusional” idea.

Solazyme is out to raise as much as $100 million through an initial public offering, according to a prospectus filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission on Friday. The proposed deal is underwritten by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Lazard Capital Markets, and Pacific Crest Securities. The company hopes to eventually trade under the symbol (NASDAQ: SZYM).

The company, which I profiled in July, was founded in 2003 by Jonathan Wolfson and his college friend Harrison Dillon. Their plan, which Wolfson says sounded more than a little far-fetched at the time, was to use fast-dividing, efficient algae to produce renewable fuels. Wolfson and Dillon have turned their once-delusional vision into an organization with 111 full-time employees, and a diverse set of partnerships with big companies like Chevron, Dow, Qantas, Sephora, and Unilever. It also has contracts to supply renewable diesel to the biggest customer on the planet-the U.S. Department of Defense.

The capitalization table for this company looks a lot different than your typical VC-backed venture. The Roda Group in Berkeley, CA has the largest stake in Solazyme with 29.8 percent ownership, followed by Braemar Energy Ventures in New York with 10.7 percent. The founders—Wolfson and Dillon—each still have a 9.7 percent ownership stake, according to the prospectus. Wolfson is the CEO, and Dillon is the president and chief technology officer.

Going public is a critical step for Solazyme if it is going to fulfill its promise of making renewable fuels at scale. Other aspiring biofuel companies—LS9, Sapphire Energy, and Synthetic Genomics among them—will surely be watching this one closely to see whether public investors have worked up an appetite for biofuel plays.

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