CleanTechIQ recently caught up with cleantech and sustainability venture capital investor Cynthia Ringo, managing partner at DBL Investors, about her key investment trends and predictions for 2015.
Ms. Ringo joined DBL in 2008 and was formerly a managing director of Vantage Point Capital Partners from 2002 to 2008. Prior to Vantage Point, Ms. Ringo served as the CEO of Coppercom, a next-generation network-switching company.
DBL Investors, led by managing director Nancy Pfund, was spun out of JPMorgan in 2008. Five of the 18 companies in DBL’s first fund have gone public, including SolarCity, Pandora Media and Tesla Motors.
Its cleantech portfolio includes PowerLight Corp (acquired by SunPower), Brightsource Energy, SolarCity, PowerGenix, Ogin, OPX Bio, Siva Power, View Dynamic Glass, Primus Power, eMeter (acquired by Siemens), NEXTracker, and Tesla.
DBL recently raised $356 million from from 108 LPs for its third fund (DBL Partners III), according to an SEC filing.
DBL’s most recent investment was a follow on $10 million Series D venture investment in thin film solar PV panel manufacturer Siva Power (formerly Solexant) on January 29, which also included investors Acero Capital, Medley Partners, and Trident Capital. In 2011, Siva developed a process of putting a compound of copper, indium, gallium and selenium (CIGS) directly on glass to make solar panels.
DBL also participated in OLED inkjet printer equipment manufacturer Kateeva’s $38 million Series D venture funding in Sept. 2014, which included corporate strategic investor Samsung Venture Investment Corporation, along with five other venture capital investors.
The biggest disappointment was the fundraising environment for cleantech companies, which continues to be very challenging. The biggest success was California’s (and other states’) continuing efforts to promote clean alternatives to the traditional centralized, fossil-fuel powered energy grid. These efforts are being driven by the individual consumer as well as far-sighted government officials.
What are the biggest cleantech and sustainability investment sentiment changes you’ve observed in the past 12 months?
In cleantech, the realization that distributed and renewables generation is “here to stay, and is going mainstream,” as evidenced by the continued success of SolarCity, the increasing number of states and countries where PV is reaching grid parity, and the strong mandate by California for utilities to deploy 1.3GW (gigawatts) of storage by 2020. In fact, in Governor Jerry Brown’s (D-Calif.) most recent Inaugural Address, he called for California to move toward an energy mix of 50% renewables. And more and more large corporations are getting involved in the investment mix, which is a positive thing. And more and more private equity firms and hedge funds are investing in cleantech as well, particularly in downstream development projects and yieldcos.
In sustainability, we are seeing more and more entrepreneurs (both new ones as well as well-seasoned ones from other industries) creating companies that address sustainability and/or impact. As a result, both the number and quality of startups in this space has increased.
Could you provide insight on innovative corporate partnership models that you have observed with companies in your portfolio?
Corporate partnerships and funding continue to provide key late-stage and growth-stage support (both investment dollars as well as development channels and resources) to DBL companies that are ramping production in both business and consumer-focused markets. This is particularly true in capital-intensive markets in energy generation.
Some key examples include:
– Corning’s investment in and partnership with View Dynamic Glass for development of next-generation electrochromic glass.
– A large west-coast real-estate developer, and a large east-coast university, directly investing in View to gain access to supplies of View Dynamic Glass for millions of square feet of future construction.
– Ecologic Brands (a maker of recycled paper bottles) is closely engaging with major consumer package goods companies for joint product development. Traditional packaging industry players are investing heavily in sales, marketing, and licensing relationships to bring the products to market outside the USA, and one of them has invested directly into Ecologic. (Ecologic Brands closed a $7 million round of financing in April, 2014 from investors including strategic investor Kruger Inc., as well as DBL Investors, Catamount Ventures, and Black Bear Partners.)
– Particularly in energy generation, large corporate partners have been using their balance sheets and existing channels to help our startups enter the market. For example: Google & NRG co-funded the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating Plant (solar thermal) with Brightsource, and SunEdison’s sales partnership with Nextracker (solar racking systems) has greatly accelerated contracts & revenue growth for Nextracker, and Ogin partnered with EDF Renewables (formerly enXco) for the initial market deployments in 2015 of Ogin’s revolutionary shrouded medium-scale (150KW) wind-turbines.
What are the investment strategies and themes you will be pursuing in 2015?
In energy, our focus will be on the continuing decentralization of the grid (akin to the Mainframe-PC-Mobile transformation), and opportunities in generation, storage, and an “energy grid operating system,” both upstream and downstream, and consumer and business-focused.
In consumer sustainability, our focus will be IT-enabled products/applications/services that promote sustainability/reuse of resources, and a focus on enabling consumer markets (e.g., our 2014 investments in Yerdle & TheRealReal). We continue to see strong demand from consumers for “more organic, sustainable, authentic, products & services.”
In supply chain, or focus will be on the use of IT/Data to increase transparency in the Agriculture and Consumer products supply chain (e.g., our investment in Farmers Business Network), and providing the information that consumers are demanding from the businesses they trade with, and the products and services they use (related to #2.)
DBL Investor’s Cynthia Ringo will be speaking about new strategies and emerging investment models in cleantech and sustainability at the Sustain Summit in Newport Beach, CA on Feb 12th .
To learn more about the Sustain Summit and hear from other leading investors such as: Björn Heinz, Investment Manager of BASF Venture Capital America; Tom Cain, Managing Partner of GSV Sustainability Partners; and Pat Ramm, Director, Corporate Venturing at Waste Management, click here. Use promo code CTIQ50 to receive a 50% discount.