Lurking just beyond the riveting list of high-achieving new companies in the "2013 Global Cleantech 100" report released on Oct. 9 are two special mentions reserved for the organizations that are making the most substantial investments in this category.
Overall, the study, which has been compiled for the past five years by the aptly named Cleantech Group (a consulting firm based in Washington, DC), heralds the emerging industry players that are "most likely to succeed" within the next five years. The majority are innovative start-ups, arrayed in 15 categories; among them, energy efficiency, biofuels and biochemicals, conventional fuels, smart grid, transportation, and water and wastewater. This year, energy efficiency remained the fastest-growing sector in cleantech, with 27 companies on the list, up from 22 in 2012 and 19 in 2011.
While the sector remains hot and seed money continues to be available, the factors and faces behind the growth are changing: The role of venture capital firms in the cleantech expansion is dwindling, even as corporate investors with deeper pockets and an eye on product development are stepping in to take their place.
Top cleantech investors
In addition to lauding the 100 uber-achieving newbies, the report looks at the companies that currently are amassing the largest percentage of cleantech stock in their portfolios. At the awards ceremony, attended by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz:
- Corporate Investor of the Year went to GM Ventures of Detroit. The automaker's investment group has added a number of GCT 100 innovators to its portfolio, including Envia Systems (components for lithium-ion batteries), Proterra (battery-powered buses), and RelayRides (a car-sharing platform).
- Financial Investor of the Year went to VantagePoint Capital Partners of San Bruno, Calif. The venture capital firm's portfolio includes seven cleantech companies: Genomatica (green chemicals from garbage), glo (nanowire LED lighting), Liquid Robotics (autonomous marine vehicles), Next Step Living (home energy diagnostics), Ostara Nutrient Recovery Technologies (environmentally responsible fertilizer), Tendril (home energy management), and Trilliant (smart grid communications).
"As long as the traditional venture firms remain constrained, it's a great time for corporates with cash to do some deals," Sheeraz Haji of the Cleantech Group told Mercury News recently. "Corporates are really interested in start-ups, and start-ups want corporates to participate. The interest is really high on both sides."
- Montreal-based BioAmber (NYSE: BIOA), a developer of green chemicals from agricultural feedstock that went public in May 2013 at $10 per share and currently is trading at $6.40. In a recent memorandum, Andrew I. McDonald, founding partner at the New York City-based firm, LifeSci Advisors, was bullish on BioAmber. "[It] has all of the pieces in place needed to become a successful commercial scale chemical manufacturer and leader in the green chemical industry," he said. "They have already demonstrated large-scale production of succinic acid at their demonstration plant, and the fully funded plant they are building in Sarnia, Ontario, will be mechanically operational by the end of 2014."
- California-based Silver Spring Networks (NYSE: SSNI), a provider of networking communication solutions that went public in March 2013 at a price of $17 and currently is trading at $15.03. "While recent deal losses in Japan and the United Kingdom were disappointing, the company remains well- positioned for international expansion, as evidenced by wins in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil," wrote Goldman Sachs analyst Simona Jankowski in a report dated Sept. 25.
- North America: Nest (Palo Alto, Calif.), the much-hyped designer of a networked "learning" thermostat for the home
- Europe & Israel: Organica Water (Budapest, Hungary), a provider of Fixed-Bed Biofilm Activated Sludge wastewater treatment plants
- Asia Pacific: Hydrexia (Queensland, Australia), developer of solid hydrogen storage systems based on magnesium alloys
A 90-member expert panel, including leading financial investors and representatives of multinational enterprises such as 3M, BP, Ecolab, General Electric, General Motors, IBM, Johnson Controls, and Veolia Environnement, gave input on the short-listed 300 to get to the final list of 100 companies from 18 countries. Perhaps they were thinking about their next investments?