A lot has been said and written about innovation, risk taking, and entrepreneurship. The American capitalistic economy has always been and continues to be the hotbed of innovation and risk taking. It is, in part, what makes the United States one of the greatest countries in the world and its economy the most productive. Read the rest of this entry »
Archive for 2012|Yearly archive page
All, I just had to post this article from the Tech Review. It is spot on. Sadly, I’m not a billionaire, but I’m working in every way I know to think big and convince those individuals who can to invest in major planet changing projects. More to come on this subject.
The former chief technology officer of Microsoft on why he’s backing the nuclear energy startup TerraPower.
For some technologists, it’s enough to build something that makes them financially successful. They retire happily. Others stay with the company they founded for years and years, enthralled with the platform it gives them. Think how different the work Steve Jobs did at Apple in 2010 was from the innovative ride he took in the 1970s.
A different kind of challenge is to start something new. Once you’ve made it, a new venture carries some disadvantages. It will be smaller than your last company, and more frustrating. Startups require a level of commitment not everyone is ready for after tasting success. On the other hand, there’s no better time than that to be an entrepreneur. You’re not gambling your family’s entire future on what happens next. That is why many accomplished technologists are out in the trenches, leading and funding startups in unprecedented areas.
Jeff Bezos has Blue Origin, a company that builds spaceships. Elon Musk has Tesla, an electric-car company, and SpaceX, another rocket-ship company. Bill Gates took on big challenges in the developing world—combating malaria, HIV, and poverty. He is also funding inventive new companies at the cutting edge of technology. I’m involved in some of them, including TerraPower, which we formed to commercialize a promising new kind of nuclear reactor.
There are few technologies more daunting to inventors (and investors) than nuclear power. On top of the logistics, science, and engineering, you have to deal with the regulations and politics. In the 1970s, much of the world became afraid of nuclear energy, and last year’s events in Fukushima haven’t exactly assuaged those fears.
So why would any rational group of people create a nuclear power company? Part of the reason is that Bill and I have been primed to think long-term. We have the experience and resources to look for game-changing ideas—and the confidence to act when we think we’ve found one. Other technologists who fund ambitious projects have similar motivations. Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are literally reaching for the stars because they believe NASA and its traditional suppliers can’t innovate at the same rate they can.
In the next few decades, we need more technology leaders to reach for some very big advances. If 20 of us were to try to solve energy problems—with carbon capture and storage, or perhaps some other crazy idea—maybe one or two of us would actually succeed. If nobody tries, we’ll all certainly fail.
I believe the world will need to rely on nuclear energy. A looming energy crisis will force us to rework the underpinnings of our energy economy. That happened last in the 19th century, when we moved at unprecedented scale toward gas and oil. The 20th century didn’t require a big switcheroo, but looking into the 21st century, it’s clear that we have a much bigger challenge.
As China, India, Brazil, and other parts of the developing world raise their standard of living, they’ll want a lifestyle—and therefore a degree of energy consumption—that matches ours in the United States. Meanwhile, our own energy consumption increases. To meet these demands, the world’s energy generation capability will have to multiply by a factor of at least five in this century, and possibly more.
What about renewable energy? Unfortunately, no such technology can completely replace fossil fuels, which provide base-load power all day and night, regardless of whether the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. There is no carbon-free base-load power source except nuclear energy.
Let’s be clear: conventional nuclear energy has drawbacks, principally that it relies on enriched uranium. That’s problematic for several reasons. In the first place, there’s not that much uranium: if you tried to scale conventional nuclear energy to meet the world’s energy needs, you’d run out. And the enrichment process required to use natural uranium in today’s light-water reactors is complicated, expensive, and wasteful. In the U.S., more than 700,000 metric tons of depleted uranium—the by-product of enrichment—sits in storage.
TerraPower’s technology is designed to use that depleted uranium as fuel, turning the cheap by-product of today’s reactors into enough electricity to power every home in America for 1,000 years. The technology would also virtually eliminate the need for new enrichment facilities, which is important because enriched uranium is a proliferation risk. It can be used to make bombs, and so can plutonium, another by-product of the nuclear fuel cycles in use today.
TerraPower offers a path to zero-carbon, proliferation-resistant energy. Yes, there are a lot of challenges—scientific, engineering, and above all, political. The time it takes to develop a nuclear reactor and get it licensed is so daunting that it would be a crazy proposition for any ordinary entrepreneur.
Though we believe there’s a lot of good TerraPower can do for the world, it’s a for-profit venture. It has to be: competing commercially is the only way any energy option can become sustainable. That said, TerraPower’s investors, which include Khosla Ventures and Charles River Ventures, share the long-term view of its founders. They recognize that the biggest returns come from the biggest advances, and those take time. That long-term view makes it possible to invest in innovation that could revolutionize our energy infrastructure.
Like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, I was once a little boy who played with model rockets and aspired to learn nuclear physics. Back then, the idea of science as a dynamic thing that can change lives was captivating. It still is. Our challenge now, especially for those of us whose financial success is the greatest, is to think big. (Ray’s emphasis)
Neil Armstrong was America’s hero of heros. While he would never want this said of him because, as he said, it took tens of thousands of people to get us to the Moon and it was only a 50 50 chance he would actually land on the moon, this is what he is. It did for sure, but he did take the first step and that was not easy. Walter Cronkite once said of Armstrong that 500 years from now when the history books are written, the 20th century will be remembered for Man Landing on the Moon — and Neil Armstrong. Why? Cronkite clearly a student of history observed that history books today regarding the 15th century only talk about Christopher Columbus and the discovery of the New World, and in that order. You see in time, wars, politics, boundary disputes, and the like are all irrelevant when compared to humankind’s quest to discover new things, new worlds, and new ideas.
I was lucky enough to know Neil and his wife Carol. They were so generous with their time and home letting Nathaniel and I stay with them on our trip across America to college in 2009. Like many, the first I had heard of him was when I sat glued to the TV watching that first step after starring for hours at the TV screen of that black and white moonscape just waiting for him to come down the ladder. Later in life, he helped me with a little company, space.com, back in the 1990s. What fun that was despite that it didn’t work out too well. He was always a trooper, always had good ideas, and always brought good sense to our board discussions. And, once he told the board the story of why the pilot sits in the left hand seat of an airplane. It’s a good one told to Neil by his original flight instructor when he was 15 who happened to with the Wright Brothers when it came to pass. You can imagine he had a lot of great stories. Nathaniel and I listened for hours!
We were together at a board meeting when SpaceShipOne made its successful voyage to the edge of space. There he was, clued to the TV screen pointing out everything the news people were not. He commented on the engineering, the trajectory, the issues and concerns, but mostly he commented on how great it was to see this endeavor. While skeptical of commercial space flight, he never thought it a bad idea for folks to try.
Neil always thought he knew his place in the world. Last year I inquired of him to be the keynote speaker at the National Convention of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, and where 400 or 500 of America’s top engineers gather each year. He politely declined saying something like, ‘if I could do it justice I would but I’m afraid the bar is very high to address a distinguished group like this and at my age I fear I would let them down.’
So Neil, we will miss you very much. We will miss your subtle and humble leadership on matters of national importance and we will miss your always optimistic smile and charm. As he inspired me to think that, if you don’t invest in the future, you will have no future.
It’s a great pleasure for me to be here this morning and a special honor to begin my new role as Chair of the Board of Directors of this amazing organization with all of you here today.
By all measures, the past 12 months have been productive and successful for the NVCA, culminating in the passage of the JOBS Act, which will have a huge impact on our mission of fostering innovation and entrepreneur. It’s quite possible this might be the ’34 Act of the 21st Century. Time will tell.
Read the rest of this entry »
Today, in the Rose Garden at the White House at about 2:40, President Obama signed into law the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. This morning when I departed my hotel it was overcast and pretty chilly outside. I suddenly regretted not having my overcoat. But, as the morning past and early afternoon arrived it suddenly was a beautiful day with tulips in full bloom everywhere at the White House. The sun was beaming overhead making it warm and soothing in the crisp spring air. When I think about making the JOBS Act law, this day is a perfect metaphor. From a gloomy start to a sunny and warm finish complete with exploding tulips there was a sense of optimism and renewal for American innovation. This law makes capital formation easier, safer, and better for everyone from the smallest startup in Ithaca to the boldest tech startup in Boulder. Read the rest of this entry »
President Obama is expected to sign the JOBS Act shortly. Congratulations to us all! It was passed quickly and with full bipartisan support in an election year. Of the many provisions in the bill, one that the venture capital industry worked very hard on was the IPO On Ramp. Many thanks to Kate Mitchell of Scale Partners for her leadership on this matter.
Because I am frequently asked, let me tell you the story behind the IPO On Ramp? Read the rest of this entry »
I could not have said it better. Thanks, Mark.
By Mark Heesen, NVCAccess 3/22/12
We are extremely gratified by today’s bipartisan passage (73-26) of the JOBS Act and commend the U.S. Senate for its leadership – particularly Senators Schumer, Toomey, Crapo and Warner — in crafting this legislation and expeditiously moving it forward. The JOBS Act will address a multitude of challenges currently faced by America’s emerging growth companies that are seeking capital to grow, innovate and hire employees. We are optimistic that the House will agree to send the JOBS Act to the President to sign in short order as this will be a significant victory for entrepreneurial companies and the U.S. economy.
Hey, my good friend Pablo Fuentes, CEO of Proven, got a special accolade from the White Housethis week as a Champion of Change.
“On Wednesday, March 7th, the White House honored eleven local leaders as Champions of Change, recognizing outstanding leaders in entrepreneurial mentoring, counseling and training. These exceptional leaders support small business owners by helping them accelerate their path to growth.”
Check out it. Congratulations, Pablo!
Moving quickly because it makes so much sense for startups and job creation in America, the Senate this week is considering S.1933 which contains provisions of the IPO OnRamp in which the NVCA participated. Please encourage your senator to bring it to a vote! Kate Mitchell of Scale Ventures, former chair of NVCA spearheaded this effort. It is bipartisan and good for everyone. Call/email/write your senator to support this bill this week. I thank Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) for cosponsoring and supporting this important bill.
I’m not sure what Arun would have done if he had four days? This conference is the most aspirational event I’ve been to in a long long time. This morning’s keynotes were simply awesome. Speakers were Ursula Burns, Susan Hockfield, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Rep. Chaka Fattah, Senator Chris Coons, Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Poneman, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. The highlight was the before-lunch speaker, President Bill Clinton.
Key themes that came from today’s list of speakers were education, immigration, creating demand in the Federal Government, driving down costs so that any new technology does not need subsidies.
President Clinton was charming, witty, and really connected on energy matters. He’s not a domain expert on energy, but what he cited in terms of the benefits to people, the impact to jobs of energy fixing, and some historical perspective and climate change were remarkable. He beautifully connected it all to real world stories about people. For example, he discussed how capturing gas from landfills and cleaning them up or restructuring them with local labor helps everyone nearby.
After President Clinton’s conference address, he came to a separate room to meet with all the students attending the conference, 82 of them from 30 universities, representing all the energy clubs in all many American universities. Clinton took questions for over an hour demonstrating further his connection with energy and people and how it all matters to all parts of American society.
I hope you all will visit the ARPA-E site soon and see some of these incredible presentations.