Nanosolar and Creative Start-Up Financing

Brian Sager, the co-founder of thin film solar pioneer Nanosolarmade a relatively rare appearance at a sold-out EBC panel I moderatedin Mountain View, California last week. The event ostensibly coveredcreative financing although we discussed a wide variety of greentechtopics. Other speakers included:

  • Sempra’s Manager of Technology Development – David Berokoff
  • Physic Ventures Director Andrew Williamson
  • The CEC’s Matt Coldwell, Program Manager Small Grants Program and Norman Bourassa, Buildings End-Use Energy Efficiency Program

Nanosolar’s message control and corporate code of omertà makes Karl Rove and the Corleoneslook like schoolboys.  Sager warned me before the panel that he wouldnot be making any prognostications about Nanosolar’s business.  Norwould he be willing to even answer questions about the future of thesolar market.  He simply would not answer questions about the future,about things he did not know.  No forward looking questions.

So when it came to Nanosolar – it was all rear-view mirror.  It remains an interesting story.

Accordingto Sager, when Nanosolar won it’s initial venture funding – it was thefirst time Sand Hill Road invested in a solar company.  But before andafter that precedent, Nanosolar has used every avenue of funding onecould think of to fund their potentially disruptive thin film solarfirm, now at about $500 million in funding to date.

  • Angel funding – Sergey Brin, Reid Hoffman, Larry Page, Sunil Paul, et al.
  • Government Grants – from the California Energy Commission, DOE, DARPA and DoD
  • Traditional VC for their Round A – Benchmark Capital, USVP
  • Greentech VC for their Round B – MDV
  • Corporate Venture Funds – Swiss Re, Mitsui & Co.
  • Niche VC – OnPoint Ventures (The US Army’s venture fund)
  • Private Equity – the Carlyle Group, Lone Pine Capital
  • Strategics – Utilities EDF and AES Corporation
  • Venture leasing – Western Technology Investment
  • Regional subsidies – from San Jose, CA and local German governments

So, other than founder credit cards and bank robbery – that might exhaust the available avenues of start-up financing.

As mentioned – no new info about Nanosolar but a few facts of note:

  • The founders and the founding investors weren’t investing in the CIGS material system so much as they were investing in the roll-to-roll printing model.  In fact, the founders had looked at a number of other materials systems prior to settling on CIGS.
  • Nanosolar has filed more than 350 patents

Eight years or so after their founding, 2010 is the year forNanosolar to ramp production and prove they can meet their stated goalof low LCOE.



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