25 March 2010

2nd Annual Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum

Cleantech interest is alive and well in the Greater Philadelphia area.

Over 380 people showed up at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia tonight for the 2nd Annual Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum co-presented by BlankRome and the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic.

The capacity audience heard opening keynote remarks from the Honorable C.H. "Bud" Albright, former Under Secretary of Energy and now a Senior VP for Policy and Government Affairs with CenterPoint Energy, along with an investor panel, and five presenting companies.

"I'm a policy guy," Albright opened. "And I also believe we can solve our energy problems with technology."

But, Albright continued, "those policies must be focused on the realities today and quickly get out of the way of the market. We need to let the creativity that exists develop."

Part of that reality is that fossil fuels will be around for some time to come, Albright offered, and we need transition strategies, pointing to energy efficiency and transportation fuels as the low-hanging fruit.

"The winners will be those who see the need and meet the need," said Albright.

The investor panel expressed cautious optimism about investing in the sector and a sigh of relief that 2009 was over.

"We're still going to take time to come out," said Kef Kasdin, a general partner with Battelle Ventures. "But we see some optimism in raising capital."

Mary Kay James, a managing partner with DuPont Ventures said they are seeing growth in potential new investments to the point where they are hiring staff to handle analysis.

"The most important thing to drive investment is consistency," suggested Michael Donnelly of GE Equity. "We need consistency in policy. Wind investment, for example, has been a yo-yo" because of the inconsistency of tax credits and incentives.

Michael Bevan, a managing partner at Element Partners, is experiencing higher failure rates, and has been defensive with regard to reserves. "We still have a fair amount of dry powder," Bevan said.

The five companies presenting were:

AE Polysilicon, a Fairless Hills-based manufacturer of high-purity grade polysilicon for use in crystalline silicon solar panels.

BlackGold Biofuels, the Philadelphia-based company with its first brown grease to biodiesel treatment plant now going up in San Francisco.

Community Energy, which was the leading early developer of utility scale wind power projects and markets that is now trying to do the same thing in the solar space.

FiniteCarbon, a forest development company that provides a single-source solution for creating and monetizing carbon credits.

Momentum Dynamics, the Malvern-based company developing proprietary technologies that will allow electric vehicles to be recharged wirelessly, either parked or in motion.

Several other companies exhibited, including AdaptivEnergy, ChiSage Systems, NanoPack, Netronix, Sun & Earth, and Y-Carbon.

The forum, organized in part by Tom Dwyer and Lou Rappaport from BlankRome (with help from Lorrie Scott), along with the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, was sponsored by Fairmount Partners, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, Fesnak and Associates, PECO, Drexel's College of Engineering, Turner, the MAC Alliance and New Jersey Economic Development Authority, among others.

(Disclosure: I am co-founder of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, and an advisor to BlackGold Biofuels.)

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