Green businesses were the darlings of the investment world last year, but money has dried up for everyone. What does the recession mean for green entrepreneurs?
President, California Clean Energy Fund, a San Francisco not-for-profit venture fund and think tank
• Venture capitalists will be looking at their portfolios to find the best opportunities. Businesses that are further along will have an obvious advantage, but companies one step down will be forced to close up shop.
• There is still a tremendous interest [from venture capitalists] in very early-stage businesses. These companies are hoping to get traction when the recession ends.
• The recession is affecting innovators' ability to scale. There are still plenty of opportunities for early-stage entrepreneurs and for lab-level science. But the real challenge is getting companies with great science to the point where they are relevant, because that requires more capital.
• We could make the case that in some respects, the recession is over for venture capital in this industry, because there is tremendous global support for investment in clean technology and clean energy. But we have to get the banks involved to support the bigger companies.
Co-founder, Big Room, a Vancouver (B.C.) startup that provides information on green certifications and eco-labeling systems
• We raised angel and venture capital money last year, so we can afford to sit it out a little bit and work on improving our service. We're being extremely careful with our cash because we don't know how long it's going to [have to] last.
• A bunch of startups are coming out of business schools, because people are facing a pretty bad job search. Previously a lot of PhDs and master's graduates would have gone to work for the government [or nonprofits] or large companies on environmental issues. Now a lot more people want to do their own company. Certainly the opportunity cost isn't as high as it used to be.
• Entrepreneurs are considering environmental businesses that aren't as capital-intensive, because it's so hard to raise money right now.
• I think consumer appetite for green is still high. Some higher-end products might suffer, but a lot of consumers have been educated in this field, and it's hard to unlearn.
—as told to Amy S. Choi
Return to the BWSmallBiz August/September 2009 Table of Contents