Ray Rothrock

Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Pres. Obama — Takes aim at coal pollution

In Energy, Technology on June 2, 2014 at 8:41 am

It is very clear to everyone that coal is a dirty dirty fuel.  It’s a well kept secret, in fact, that it is not.  Scores of people die just mining it.  And every year millions of people die breathing the exhaust plumes from coal burning.  As we have seen in the recent years, China, who is full speed ahead on producing electricity, has doubled their coal burning and as a result polluted their cities beyond what is even tolerable.  Look at photos from the cities there but notably at Dec. 7, 2013 Shanghai for evidence of this.  China’s economy is not going to stop, so the notion of simply saying stop burning coal will not work.

Today President Obama is putting the EPA on the front line to deal with this in the United States.  While I praise this effort, it will surely fall under the weight of legal battles and possible legislative pressure to prevent EPA from doing this.  I’m counting on the President to get this done.

We should reduce coal burning in the world, but let’s start with the US, as quickly as possible.  Whether your own science concurs with the rest of science about climate change or not, the whole notion of breathable air should put you squarely in the court of NO MORE COAL burning.

Good luck, Mr. President.

Next up in your final lap as President — R&D spending.  There is nothing more critical to the long term future of the nation, the nation’s economy, and our standard of living, than the investment in R&D.  Nothing.  And I would start with electricity generation as a top priority.


Transatomic Tackles Spent Nuclear Fuel Waste with Green Energy

In Energy, Technology, Venture Capital on February 7, 2014 at 6:31 am

One of the public’s concerns for the expansion of nuclear energy as a clean, non-CO2 source of power is the accumulation of spent nuclear fuel waste.  This waste is highly radioactive and must be isolated for hundreds of thousands of years from the environment.  Trivially small by volume, nuclear waste from power plants is nonetheless a real concern for everyone.  And rightly so.  Enter new thinking by today’s grad students to tackle such a thorny issue that the U.S. Government has yet to solve.

Transatomic Power, a new company founded by MIT PhDs , Leslie Dewan and Mark Massie, and Russ Wilcox is tackling the spent nuclear fuel issue head on!  Their reactor design, a molten salt liquid fuel design, is able to burn up existing spent nuclear fuel turning it into electricity.  But more importantly, it reduces the ultimate spent fuel radioactivity to a level requiring about 300 years isolation from hundreds of thousands of years isolation and the volume to 1/20 of what it was before it was turned into electricity.   And by the way, there is no proliferation risk introduced in the process, either.  The company is seed financed by me and others.

Recognized by Time, Forbes, MIT Tech Review, and many other national publications, Dr. Dewan and Mr. Massie were featured in a TEDx New England Nov. 1, 2011.  This short 19 minute video is worth watching if you want to witness what new, fresh thinking can do, and want to see what innovation is all about.

The company has produced a white paper describing their technology.  If you’ve been around a while, you’ll recognize that TAP is built on the shoulders of other giants, namely the work done at Oakridge National Laboratory in the 1960s with their graphic moderated molten salt reactors.  By the way, those reactors worked nicely back then.

What are the next steps?  Like all new technologies, this one needs to be tested.  And to do that, the company needs to take their designs to an engineering level that could be built.  And then, in cooperation with the United States Department of Energy (perhaps), the nuclear utility industry, and others, it needs to build a demonstration plant.  This is not a billion dollar project — it is on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars and nicely fits in the national strategy for spent nuclear waste.  By the way, the country has already put aside $30 billion  against the goal of dealing with spent nuclear fuel.  TAP and other ideas make sense to try.

Planet Labs — New Age Earth Science and Data Company

In Energy, Technology, Venture Capital on December 18, 2013 at 11:31 am

I just invested in Planet Labs.  See the press release.  This team has a vision of changing how the earth is observed with a huge fleet of small satellites that will sense the earth daily. The data they collect will become available essentially to everyone.  This is very exciting for a lot of reasons.  First, things change quickly on the planet and this requires data to comprehend, and not just the weather.  Second — as the climate changes more and more these sorts of observations will become increasingly valuable to the NGOs and the governments of the world that  have policies with teeth.  Third — there is a whole bunch of new companies that will emerge from this data and its use.  Oh yes, the oil and gas, the ag, the tech that currently consume about $1.5 billion per year of “mapping” data are sure to be customers of Planet Labs.  But I’m talking about a whole new generation of digital natives who will figure out never-before new ways of using this data in valuable applications serving it to you, me and every person with a smartphone or feed.  This is very exciting.  As a boy having watched Armstrong and Aldrin walk on the moon the first time, an idea like this has finally arrived.  Space will no longer be the domain of governments.  It’s for you and me.  Thanks Yuri for stepping up and leading this investment.  Thanks Will, Robbie and Chris for founding the company and letting me invest in your vision.

CloudFlare Raises a Big Round of Capital

In Technology, Venture Capital on December 17, 2013 at 9:22 am

See the story linked here.  CloudFlare, a Venrock deal in which I led a Series A financing a few years ago, is, as they say, rocking and rolling.  In the new age of everything digital and the long tail, while still long but now substantial in terms of Internet traffic, CloudFlare offers amazing benefits to website owners of all sizes, shapes, and purposes.  The benefits are many including security, performance, analytics, and business continuity.  But I’ll let the rest of the world tell the story.  I’ll just say that Matthew Prince and Michelle Zatlyn are an exceptional founding team and thoughtful leaders.  I base this conclusion on the fifty plus teams with whom I have worked over the past 25 years as a venture capitalist.  As for me, I’m glad they shook my hand when I offered them an investment.  As one of my mentors used to say, “when you find a deal that seems to just go and go and go without much assistance, just stand back and marvel” — which in the case of CloudFlare is very true.  It’s up and to the right for CloudFlare.

What makes an effective VC?

In Energy, Technology, Venture Capital on October 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Chris diGeorgio and I were invited speakers at a client meeting of GW & Wade Company last week.  Chris was my co-panelist and had recently completed a substantial report published by Accenture on the impact of venture on jobs.  My role was to discuss venture as I just completed being the chair of the National Venture Capital Association. Gene Sinclair of GW&W was our host.

In the Q&A a gentleman asked me, “What makes a good VC?”  Given the data that we just presented, this was a great question.  On the stump I answered it in my usual flowing way.  However, as I was driving home, my answer haunted me as incomplete and not specific enough.  This question is so important that I’ve thought about it more and decided I would jot down my more specific thoughts.  Here is a minimum list of qualities that I think make for a good and effective VC?

1. Personable.  Venture is a people business.  One has to be confident but not arrogant so as to attract similarly smart and capable people.  Deal flow is the elixir of venture and making deal flow happen is easier if you are personable.

2. IQ.  You need a good IQ to go toe to toe with the smartest entrepreneurs.  They are all very smart.  Further they know more about their business than you, but in all likelihood, you know more about building businesses than they do.  So there is a balance here.

3. Pattern Recognition.  The power of transferring learnings, good and bad, from other startup experiences to the current startup is crucial.  Learning over time to see the signals — ones that tell you about the CEO and the culture, or ones that tell you about confidence of the team, and ones that tell you about attention to detail — matter greatly.  Seeing patterns is not something most people have.  I think this is necessary to be a successful VC.

4. Persuasive.  As a VC on the board of a startup, there is only one actual action you can do – hire and fire the CEO.  Nothing else.  Everything other action you impart comes through your personal salesmanship and persuasiveness.  This requires clear thinking, logical thinking, and willing to listen so that a dialogue occurs and all points make it to the table so that good decisions are made.

5. Passion.  Doing a startup company is hard for the entrepreneur as well as the VC. It takes passion to get through the tough times, and startup companies have tough times.  Forgiveness for honest mistakes and letting others take credit are strong, mature features of a competent and supportive VC.  At the end of the day, you are building a company.  A passion for building, growing and desire to win are essential passions you must have to be a good VC.

6. Closure.  A great VC knows how to close and get stuff done.  Time is short in a start up and getting stuff done quickly really matters.  So making hard choices and taking action is required.  If you can’t get something done, you can’t build a company.  And therefore, you probably shouldn’t be a VC.

I’m sure there are many other features of a successful VC.  Everyone does it a little differently and finds their own way in being successful.  These are just some things I’ve honed over my 25 years of investing in startups.  But, of course, nothing beats backing a really talented entrepreneur who never needs a hand.  That is a marvelous sight to behold, and every VC should just stand back and marvel when that happens — it is truly magic.

Failure: A Prelude to Success

In Technology, Venture Capital on December 9, 2012 at 10:05 am

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 »

Happy New Year!

In Energy, Technology on January 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm

Like always, at the end of the old year and the beginning of the new, there are many articles and magazines that try to capture what just happened.  It’s always fun, but hey, we all did just live through it.

I was feeling inspired Saturday morning looking over some of these year-end reports, so to speak.  In my line of venture capital I’m often asked, what’s going on in energy and venture.  We always seem to do these reflections in December.  So, not only did I reflect but I added a bit of  “where to now?” in my blog piece.  Feeling sporty, I sent it the HuffPost and they published it.

Enjoy.   And, Happy New Year!

CloudFlare is Shining Bright

In Technology on July 12, 2011 at 7:32 am

Today CloudFlare announced a $20 million equity financing lead by NEA and joined by Venrock and Pelion. For a 15-person company, raising $20 million is a lot of money.  So what’s up? Read the rest of this entry »

Great Technology Adoption Waves

In Technology on January 16, 2011 at 10:34 am

Friday, January 14, Senator Hatch of Utah conducted a technology roundtable at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake.  It was a fine affair, well attended by many local Utah entrepreneurs, university people, and others.   The panel was first rate and included Keith Larson of Intel, Shane Robison of HP, Dan’l Lewin of Microsoft, Kate Mitchell of Scale Venture Partners, and me.  Senator Hatch opened by asking each of us about where the trends are in technology these days.  I was last, so I got to hear everyone else’s trends.  Theirs were interesting.  I get this question a lot.  So, I opened with this.

Read the rest of this entry »