Last decade’s clean-tech gold rush ended in disaster, wiping out billions in investments and scaring venture capitalists away for years.

But a new investment boom is building again, this time around a broader set of climate-related technologies. Funding has soared more than 3,750% since 2013, according to a PwC report this fall, as numerous climate-focused venture firms emerge and established players return to the field (including some that got scorched the last time). Investments are poised to rise further as market, policy, and technological forces align to make venture capitalists and entrepreneurs more confident.

One of these factors is President-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to push through climate-friendly legislation, regulations, and executive orders. There are also rising hopes that Congress will pass stimulus bills that would funnel massive amounts of money into clean tech, much as the Obama administration did during the global financial crisis.

Regardless of what happens on the US federal level, growing numbers of states, nations, and corporations are committing to achieve net zero emissions in the coming decades. Those targets alone promise to create significant demand for clean energy and other climate-related technologies.

“Climate has many, many problems, with many different solutions—and that will create many opportunities to build big, valuable companies,” Andrew Beebe, managing director of Obvious Ventures, which invests in clean-energy and transportation startups, said in an email. “From batteries to mobility to energy efficiency to carbon capture and beyond.”

The ultimate size and fate of the next boom, however, could depend on how quickly and fully the economy recovers from the devastating covid-driven downturn—and how well investors learned their lessons from the last bust.

What went wrong

The original clean-tech boom was a bloodbath. Investors plowed some $25 billion into startups from 2006 to 2011—but they lost more than half their money in the end, according to an MIT Energy Initiative analysis in 2016. In fact, more than 90% of the companies funded after 2007 didn’t even return the capital invested.

A variety of factors were to blame.

The global recession dried up the market for new or follow-on investments. The collapse of silicon prices as China scaled up solar panel production hammered thin-film startups and others pursuing alternative approaches. And the advanced biofuel sector struggled to compete as the recession undercut oil prices and the rise of fracking tapped into new domestic natural-gas reserves.

But the MIT analysis concluded that “external economic trends” weren’t the primary problem. The bigger issue was that startups still deep in the research-and-development stage were a poor fit with the venture capital industry, which was counting on the sorts of high three- to five-year returns that it enjoyed in

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By: James Temple
Title: How VCs can avoid another bloodbath as the clean-tech boom 2.0 begins
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Published Date: Mon, 30 Nov 2020 09:00:00 +0000

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