Pivotal Investments Seeks to Build Regional Network of Future Cleantech Leaders

There has been a lot of talk in the past year (and the past month) about the need to build a critical mass of cleantech and alternative energy companies in the Northwest. Now one venture firm in Portland, OR, is doing something about it, by assembling a talent pool of people with the ability to run serious cleantech companies.

Pivotal Investments, an early-stage venture fund focused on cleantech and sustainability, is organizing what it’s calling Pivotal Leaders—a new network of community-nominated entrepreneurs and executives who will be voted the most promising candidates to lead new companies in this emerging sector. Nominations are open now, and Pivotal is looking to compile and vet a list of roughly 50 top cleantech business leaders who have ties to Washington, Oregon, Idaho, or British Columbia, by mid-June. The plan will be to organize four or five networking events around these leaders, in different cities, in the second half of the year.

The proposed network strikes me as exactly the sort of dedicated effort the Northwest needs to get more cleantech investors in Vancouver, BC, for instance, to talk to entrepreneurs and big companies in Portland and Seattle, and vice versa. That, in turn, could help call more national attention to the region and spur its efforts to become a true leader in energy and sustainability—or at least better compete with companies in California and other parts of the country. “We’re interested in building the ecosystem here for green, cleantech jobs,” says Gregg Semler, co-founder and managing director of Pivotal Investments. “This is an enormous economic opportunity for the region.”

Semler says the Pivotal list will address “a problem that deals with the future.” That is, the community knows who’s running cleantech companies today, he says, but what about five years from now? “To attract capital, you need strong business leaders who can captain these companies. That builds confidence in the investors and sources of capital,” Semler says.

Pivotal Leaders will most likely be made up of a mix of early-stage entrepreneurs, executives from big companies focused on areas like software or green buildings, and others from traditional business backgrounds who have a strong interest in energy and green technologies. Semler didn’t name any names or offer up any specific examples yet, but he stressed that nominations will be open for the next few weeks, and that Pivotal wants to hear from the innovation community.

On the investment side, Semler says his venture firm is currently looking at potential deals in solar power, green buildings, agriculture, and energy efficiency. Although cleantech opportunities are still at an early stage, he says, the markets they address are big, global, and mature. And, of course, part of Pivotal’s plan with its new network is to build relationships with the best young talent the Northwest has to offer—and then consider investing in their startups.

“Our hope is that when these people decide to start a company, they’ll call us,” Semler says. “We want to get to know these people, so they feel confident that we’re a great source of capital and have a strong network to help them grow their company.”

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