Energy high at SV Clean Energy Conference

Energy high at SV Clean Energy Conference

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

A capacity crowd packed Sun Microsystem’s historic Santa Clara campus auditorium last Friday.

 After introductions by hosts Susan Lucas Conwell of SDForum and Linda Holroyd of FountainBlue, a rousing challenge to the green tech crowd came from Mayor Chuck Reed : “We want YOU to make us energy independent and pull us out of this recession!” Tall order, no pressure guys.

The Green Mayor emphasized the trillion dollar opportunity in the energy market and anticipates clean tech will receive between $40-$60 billion from President Obama’s stimulus package, most of which will benefit Silicon Valley. He underlined Silicon Valley’s reputation as the best place in the world to start and grow a business; and urged entrepreneurs to call him if they need land or buildings. The guy is serious and announced his number several times: (408) 535-4800.

The first panel “Where’s the Green in Clean?”assembled a group of top VCs: Laurie Yoler of Growth Point Technologies, Nancy Pfund – DBL Investors, Kjerstin Barley – GE Capital, and Stephen Eichenlaub -Intel Capital. Nancy Pfund addressed the issue of the price premium for clean tech products. She says some consumers are willing to pay a premium for efficiency improvements, but for a global thriving business, we need to get to parity with existing energy sources. Looking at the total cost of ownership (TCO) is key. ie a Tesla Roadster may cost a fortune to buy, but a “fill up” only costs $4.

Consumer sentiment is strongly in support of clean tech, says Laurie Yoler and cited Palo Alto where consumers were offered “green” electricity for a 15% premium. So far, the sign up rate is 60%. Of course, Palo Alto is hardly representative of the rest of the world, but what starts in Silicon Valley seldom stays in Silicon Valley.

The credit crunch is impacting investment activity especially for capital intensive solar comanies. Startups with smaller capital demands will do better, says Yoler and points out there’s a vibrant market for companies focused on energy efficiency: especially virtualization software and clean tech construction companies looking for $10 million/ round.

Someone had the audacity to ask what we can learn from the Europeans who invested heavily in clean tech, especially solar, over a decade ago. I look forward to discussing this issue further with Nancy Pfund at a later date.

Steve Eichenlaub emphasized the importance of keeping the green buzz going and credits the Obama administration for talking about the environment, global warming, energy independence and green tech almost every day since he took office. What a difference a Bush-less fortnight makes!

Check back soon for more on the conference from the Green Czars from Sun, HP, SAP, Intel and IBM

Ann Winblad talks Kool-Aid, green tech and Bill Gates

Ann Winblad talks Kool-Aid, green tech and Bill Gates

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Download or listen to this lively Fresh Dialogues interview

 

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(12 minutes)

Download Fresh Dialogues with Ann Winblad

I talked to celebrated tech leader and VC  Ann Winblad at Hummer Winblad on December 5th. New jobless figures had just been released, and were reminiscent of the mid 1970’s. Yet, despite that gloom, the views over the Embarcadero to San Francisco Bay Bridge were breathtaking, and Ann, in true venture capitalist style, was refreshingly upbeat.

She talked about her early days:

Working in the strawberry fields of Minnesota at age 7… “I learned that patience and focus is a very good balance with overall efficiency; and that’s served me well as an entrepreneur.”

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Download Fresh Dialogues with Ann Winblad – strawberry fields

Drinking the Kool-Aid. To be a successful VC, “we have to look at the glass as half full….we have to slurp up that Kool-Aid for an instant, but we can’t get addicted.” 

 

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Download Fresh Dialogues with Ann Winblad – Kool Aid

 “SDForum is an open door to entrepreneurs and innovators…we’ve funded several companies from walk-in meetings…Susan Lucas (Conwell) is our CEO and a remarkable director.”

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Download Fresh Dialogues with Ann Winblad – SDForum

  

Is Green Tech going to save Silicon Valley?  “The press likes to focus on Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer; they forget about Prancer and Dancer and Donner and Blitzen. They want one cartoon character of salvation.”

 

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Download Fresh Dialogues with Ann Winblad – green tech and Rudolph

  

Ann has been friends with Bill Gates for over 20 years. What was the atmosphere like among software experts in the mid 80’s?  “Everybody was working so hard…we’d get together for dinners and we all had a lot of fun. People would share their stories…their dreams. That’s how we got to know that some people had bigger dreams than others.” 

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Download Fresh Dialogues with Ann Winblad – friendship with Bill Gates 

 

In part two of Fresh Dialogues with Ann Winblad, we explore top market trends, cloud computing, virtualization and the attributes of successful VCs. Check back soon.

Green Tech Careers Evening – SDForum

Green Tech Careers Evening – SDForum

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Last Wednesday, SDForum, the energetic and prolific nonprofit for techies, hosted an excellent program for those considering a move to the Green and Clean business world.

Jennifer McFarlane of Clean Source Power (a solar energy company) did an excellent job as moderator to the panel of clean tech experts, including the indomitable Kevin Surace of Serious Materials, Steve Reale of Levensohn Venture Partners, Prakash Ramachandran, of Nordic Windpower Ltd., and Kevin Barry of Schweichler Price & Partners, an executive search consultant with expertise in the cleantech sector.

Despite the economic gloom, Jennifer McFarlane challenged the panel to “tell us something cheerful.” And they produced. Kevin Surace was most vocal and bullish, anticipating his company will double in manpower and revenues in 2009. So if you’re inclined to join the eco building world of Serious Materials, get your resume in ASAP. Prakash called for “bright stars ahead,” thanks to the incoming Obama administration and said, “the floodgates are going to open in the 3rd Quarter of 2009.” He outdid Kevin, by predicting a tripling of Nordic Power’s manpower and business by year end 2009.

There was general consensus that the TARP may not have helped the financial market to date, but it’s been a solid shot in the arm for the solar industry: extending the federal tax credit for another 8 years. Jennifer beamed broadly at that discussion, but Kevin pointed out that green products/ energy must be priced right/ cost the same as the competition or be a “solution sell” and put dollars in consumers pockets over their lifetime.

On the gloomier side, Kevin Barry said, “It’s still the Wild West from a hiring perspective…there’s been lazy hiring and there may be a bubble.” Steve Reale also used the word “correction” for the green business world and said the promise of a $100’s of billion market has lured many (possibly too many) VCs. Ominous stuff.

Advice for those thinking of a new green tech career:

do your homework/ take courses

get solar on your house

find out how it works

know the lingo

show your passion

be tenacious

Many thanks to SDForum CEO Susan Lucas Conwell for the invitation and to photographer extraordinaire DJ Cline for the use of his photos. Check out his website for more photos of this event.

Teens Plugged-In at Silicon Valley’s SDForum

Teens Plugged-In at Silicon Valley’s SDForum

by Alison van Diggelen, Host of Fresh Dialogues

Alison interviews Silicon Valley based Alina Libova, a rising star in the tech world at SDForum’s 2008 Teens Plugged In Conference. Alina attracted over 300,000 users for her new Facebook application. How did she do it and who inspired her? (hint: one of Google’s most glamorous stars)

Yesterday’s Teens Plugged InConference, organized by SDForum, Silicon Valley’s excellent networking and relationship builder, was a feast of youthful exuberance. HP’s auditorium in Palo Alto was overrun with young geeks from 14 to 21 who were excited to share their thoughts, sell their companies (yes: some are already CEOs) and get more funding for their tech based philanthropic enterprises. Susan Lucas-Conwell, SDForum’s chief, did a masterful job keeping the peace when Internet connections stalled at 9 am, (how can this happen in the epicenter of Silicon Valley?), but technology prevailed and soon it was on with the show.

Anshul Samar, the 14 year old  CEO of Alchemist Empire launched his PowerPoint with the panache of a seasoned techy, explaining his biz opportunity: combining kids’ need to have fun with parents’ desire to educate their kids. After launching the idea for his battle-making game that teaches chemistry at last year’s conference, he’s already raised some capital and is poised to take it further. “Being in Silicon Valley makes it impossible NOT to be an entrepreneur,” enthused Samar. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for that name in the future.

Notre Dame Junior, Sejal Hathi dominated the teen panel with eloquent answers and details of her philanthropic venture: Girls Helping Girls, an international girl empowerment program fostering links between US schools and developing countries. Go girls!

Talking philanthropy, I got the chance to interview Salina Truong for my Women’s Radio show. She works with Gumball Capital, a clever nonprofit based at Stanford that seeks to teach students about microfinance by giving them this challenge: here’s a loan for $27  and 27 gumballs, go out and use your entrepreneurial smarts and make it grow. The proceeds? They’re sent to enterprising charities like kiva.com If you want to hear about some of the creative projects and how much they raised, check out my radio show Silicon Valley Talks next week.

Finally and perhaps most impressive of all, I interviewed Alina Libova, the unassuming 19 year old who created an Easter Egg application using the Facebook framework, garnered 300,000 users and recently sold it to Thingi. A turning point for her was hosting a Vista Party at Foothill College, that drew over 300 attendees….this while she was still a high school student in Mountain View. Alina is transferring from Cal Poly to Cal next Fall and is bursting with ideas. With success like that, and her quiet yet compelling personality, she looks like a rising star. If you want to hear more from Alina about her inspiration and future plans, check out my radio show next week.

And one last note for those who lament the end of kids reading real books and losing the art of face to face communication, one teen panelist gave a glowing endorsement for Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to win friends and influence people.” I wonder what advice Carnegie would give for navigating Facebook, winning online friends and not sullying your employment prospects, 5 years down the line?

Here’s more info for TEENS

And more from Teens Talking Green at SVForum