Corporate Investors Open Wallets for Greentech

Greentech has become a big subject in corporate conference rooms over the past year. Large companies have been among the top investors so far this year, and the latest example came from Samsung Electronics this week, which announced a $15 million injection into Nanosys yesterday and promised to co-develop products with the Silicon Valley materials developer.

Samsung and Nanosys companies offered no details about their product development plan, except to say that they want to roll out goods in markets such as solar, light-emitting diodes, semiconductors and displays. Samsung already is a major manufacturer of semiconductor and consumer electronics that feature LEDs, including TVs with LED backlighting, as well as LED lighting — a technology that will one day dominate the lighting industry. Samsung also has made big bets in crystalline silicon solar cell production.

The Korean company joins a growing roster of corporate giants that are seeing profit-making potentials in technologies that can save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this week, Chevron contributed to a $52 million round for Solazyme, which aims to make fuel from algae. Last week, General Motors announced its first, $5 million investment from a $100 million venture fund, into Bright Automotive, a startup developing a plug-in hybrid electric car.

GE has some $175 million into 21 greentech companies over the past few years, and earlier this year announced that it has teamed up with venture capital firms to launch a $200 million smart grid fund.

Solar firms are finding corporate investors, too. Stion, a solar thin-film startup backed by Khosla Ventures, lined up the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. earlier this year, and the deal includes not only $50 million in equity but also a plan to license technology to chipmaker TSMC. Intel has invested in and spun out crystalline silicon solar cell maker SpectraWatt.

The entrance of more corporate investors is, of course, good news for greentech companies. Private equity investors have vowed to be more selective since the recession took hold and some of the once promising and well-funded greentech companies went bust (think OptiSolar) or delayed product launches. Corporate investors bring not just money but also their experience in production and sales, so winning their favors could help kick-start technology commercialization.

Corporate VCs were instrumental in pushing up venture investments in the last quarter. In fact, the top 10 greentech deals during the quarter came from players such as Intel Capital, GE Capital, Shell, Alstom (French power company) and Cargill Ventures, according to the Cleantech Group. Total investments during the quarter shot up 43 percent to reach $2.02 billion, spread among 140 recipients, from a year ago. Overall, the $4.04 billion from the first half of this year was up 65 percent from the first half of 2009 and slightly beat the record number in the first half of 2008.

Image courtesy of Aresauburn Flickr Creative Commons.

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