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"Why aren’t VCs putting money into pond scum?" Michael Weaver

March 9th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted in Algae-Energy-Investments

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For all the hype surrounding algae biofuel, the moneymen still aren’t ready to invest. At a panel at the WSJ Eco:nomics conference, top venture capitalists John Doerr, Vinod Khosla, and Bryant Tong explained what they like (smart-grid technology) and what they don’t (algae).

The algae discussion was prompted by a question from Michael Weaver, whose company Bionovitas has made advances, he says, in bolstering the yield and cost-competitiveness of algae. Why, he asked, aren’t the big VCs putting money into pond scum when every other clean tech seems fair game?

All three said they’ve looked at dozens of algae biofuels plans in recent years; Mr. Khosla says he’s looked at more than 100. None have invested a dime so far.

For Mr. Doerr of Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers, the problem is algae itself. To get better economics, you need to grow the stuff in cheap, open-air ponds, not in fancy bioreactors. But that is rough on algae and limits yields. Mr. Tong, of Nth power, says both the economics and the timeline of algae biofuels are still ugly at this point.

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One Response to “"Why aren’t VCs putting money into pond scum?" Michael Weaver”

  1. Matt Snyder Says:

    If government funding of algae projects is a circus, then VC's are the freak show. VC money is out there and available.

    There's a catch. Using money as a weapon is the VC's game. It's unethical and immoral to do business in such a fashion. The VC's produce nothing, create nothing, and egocentrically believe that because they can write a check, that the entire world should revolve around them and if one is lucky they might allow a developer of the technologies being commercialized to keep 40% of his own company so long as the VC's petulant "inner child" is placated with trappings similar to the Banking industry's CEO's.

    The fact is that it takes no effort to write a check. No significant thoughts or ideas to improve the technologies involved either. In short, funding a project is no excuse to demand absolute control nor is it an excuse for demanding a ridiculous salary. Money by itself is incapable of system development or other productive work, that takes people with scientific understanding along with a capacity for truly linear thinking, and not just a huge ego founded on the principle of robbing people with a pen.

    As in our case, creating a complete system for continuous growth, harvesting and processing of algae BEFORE seeking OPM will eliminate most of the investment risk. If there isn't all that much risk, the VC would do much better to give up the idea of gratifying his ego by demanding absolute control and adjust his expectations accordingly.

    A VC doesn't have to own a controlling interest in order to make his money plus a fair profit. The problem is the examples that have been set by those at the top in other industries giving rise to the fallacious belief that a Johnny-come-lately with a checkbook filled with his Dad's money should be worshipped by a tribe of Druids like a statue on Easter Island.

    VC's are enablers and spoiled brats, nothing more. As soon as I meet one who doesn't immediately lie to me, and doesn't insult my intelligence with the common display of technical ignorance, my opinion could easily change. It only takes one.

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