Apologies for not posting the last few days. I’ve been on a working vacation in Beaver Creek, CO attending the Venture Capital in the Rockies Conference.
Despite the recession, the VCIR conference pulled in about 300 attendees, only 30 fewer people than last year, says conference co-chair Seth Levine, who is a partner with the Colorado venture capital firm Foundry Group.
A few thoughts on the event:
* The Rocky Mountain region is emerging as a hub of clean technology innovation. I attended several interesting company presentations with startups working on various clean technologies.
Among the more promising:
SkyFuel: a startup based in Albuquerque, NM, which is making solar thermal power technology. They are doing a commercial demonstration with a utility this year, with plans to go into commercial production in 2010.
InfoUtility: a Boulder-based company making software to manage the smart electricity grid. Pacific Gas & Electric and Con Edison are doing test pilots of its software.
ION Engineering: another Boulder-based company making a technology that captures carbon from coal-fired plants. The company’s CEO Alfred Brown says, however, that there is no viable economic model yet for this technology.
* Although there are many promising technologies, most of them are still not yet ready for prime-time commercial deployments.
* Several entrepreneurs I spoke with were complaining that the VCs are reluctant to make new investments. One reason is that many area VC firms are having a tough time raising money.
* I was on a panel with Rebecca Buckman from Forbes, Mark Ververka of Barron’s and peHub’s Dan Primack. Foundry Group partner Brad Feld did a great job moderating the session. We all agreed that the venture capital industry was ripe for reinvention and that it was most likely the limited partners that were going to drive that change.
With venture capital returns down or non-existent for many firms, one likely area of change is the industry’s management fee structure in which firms get paid fees worth 1% to 2% of capital under management.
* Despite the tough environment, some new VC firms are getting funded: I bumped into Dave Moll, the former CEO of Webroot Software. He told me that last year he started a new Boulder-based firm called Infield Capital. The firm has raised a $50 million fund and is focused on investment in early-stage clean technologies for the transportation industry, with an emphasis on future powertrain technologies, and has already made three investments. Congrats Dave and good luck!