Clean Tech VC Beat: Three to Watch in the Bay Area
Last week was an eventful one in venture capital clean tech funding, especially for California-based Solaria, Solazyme and Calisolar. Here’s a closer look at each of them, and what to look out for in the near future.
HQ: Fremont, CA
Designer, manufacturer and marketer of silicon PV modules Solaria Corporation raised $65 million in round D financing, including $10 million in a growth loan facility. Solaria markets its products to solar system integrators, project developers and electric utilities and its “secret sauce” is a technology that essentially halves the requirement for silicon, still the most expensive ingredient in solar cells. Future didn’t always look this bright for the California-based company with operations in Germany and India – after a promising start in 2008, the recession forced it to go dark for over a year, and to scrap its first-generation technology due to falling panel prices. But now, led by an experienced team, including Dan Shugar, co-founder of Powerlight, acquired by SunPower in 2007, and backed by capital from CMEA Capital and DBL Investors, Adams Street Partners, Cycad Group, and Western Technologies Inc (WTI), Solaria looks like it crossed the valley of death unscathed. It remains to be seen if they can scale up accordingly.
HQ: South San Francisco
On Thursday, Solazyme, leading producer of renewable oil and bioproducts from microalgae, announced that Unilever and Sir Richard Branson joined its Series D financing round as a strategic investors. Solazyme is not exactly a new entrant: they’ve been around for about seven years and have also experienced a slow ramp-up, but were majorly boosted by an $8.5 million contract they won last year to supply the Navy with 20,000 gallons of algae fuel for testing and certification that could be used in Navy ships. The South San Francisco-based company has developed biotechnology that “tricks” algae into producing oil that can be used to run automobiles, as Solazyme has been demonstrating for over a year. The strategic partnership with Unilever is good news for Solazyme for several different reasons: the former boats a large product portfolio and enables Solazyme to gain access to new markets backed by a recognizable name. Relationships and brand names are all blowing favorable winds into Solazyme’s sails. The hope is that the products will prove popular not only with eco-conscious consumers, but with the wider masses, as well. After all, that’s the sign of true success. Solazyme’s total series D financing: $52 milion.
HQ: Sunnyvale, CA
Employees: 300, but growing fast
Also last week, vertically integrated solar cell manufacturer Calisolar announced that it raised $10 million in new funding, from one unnamed investor, on the footsteps of an earlier announcement in July, of a $15 million round. While this may not seem like a lot, especially compared with the two previous companies, the bigger picture is more telling: Calisolar has had a busy year, between the February acquisition of Canada-based 6N Silicon Inc., with the intention of expanding silicon purification operations there, and the appointment in August of Sandra Beach Lin as the new CEO. Beach Lin has held positions with aluminum giant Alcoa and Honeywell International, among others, and brings along a decent portfolio of relationships and experience. Calisolar has now raised about $196 million in capital since its inception in 2006, mainly from backers such as Advanced Technology Ventures, Globespan Capital Partners and Hudson Clean Energy Partners. It didn’t hurt that the company also benefited from a $51.6 million tax credit via the federal stimulus package. What next? Calisolar is poised to profit tremendously from its technology that uses “dirty” (metallurgical grade) silicon for solar cells. “Dirty” (recycled) silicon is substantially less expensive than electronic grade silicon, which gives them a good leg up over competitors, in terms of pricing.
photo: Mike Rosati Photography.
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