Vinod Khosla just raised the biggest first-time funds of any venture capitalist since 1999 — over $1 billion in two funds — but he doesn’t encourage his clean tech companies to get to market quickly.
One of them, Stion, which builds solar voltaic thin-film modules, could be selling products right now, he said on-stage this morning at the AlwaysOn GoingGreen conference in Sausalito. Some of its competitors already are. But he told them to wait.
“We say, go for the larger innovation and the larger technical advantage,” he said. “It’s about managing risk — when you take longer to build more compelling products, you increase your technical risk and reduce market risk, and that’s a good tradeoff.”
Clean tech isn’t that different from the way information technology used to be, he said, when founders of startups made sacrifices by foregoing market-rate salaries, spending less money and focusing on true innovation. (Khosla was a co-founder of Sun Microsystems in 1982).
However, technical expertise in physics and chemistry and chemical engineering and materials science matters more than it does in IT, he said. He likes PhDs. “Facebook and YouTube are clever ideas, but expertise and materials science matters a lot when you want to get your yield up on solar cells or batteries.”
Khosla also denied a rumor that he offered to match his LPs’ contributions to his new funds dollar for dollar — “I have no comment, but it’s wrong” — and accused the media of making up stories to get readers.
And he denied that he and a few other influential clean tech investors are putting so much money into the sector that other investors are scared off. His portfolio is young and maturing well, he said — 80% of the funding rounds made since last October have been “significant up rounds” — and he claims some of his companies will be very big businesses.
Calera, which captures carbon dioxide and turns it into cement, is the “only viable solution to carbon sequestration, worth more than GE’s power plant business. It’s one of half a dozen clean tech companies that have the potential to get to tens of billions in revenue…It can apply to existing dirty power plants in India and China…It could replace asphalt in roads and sequester billions of tons of carbon. And they’d be easier to maintain.”
Khosla sequestered himself in the speakers’ room after his appearance and took no questions from the media.