Ray Rothrock

Archive for the ‘Venture Capital’ Category

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.

Why did the Government shutdown happen?

In Venture Capital on October 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Every American just lived through a silly spectacle conducted by government we elected – the budget and debt crisis.  I hope we are ashamed of ourselves, because somehow I don’t think the politicians are.  I hope we don’t forget this in the next congressional election.

I’m sure much will be written by people more informed and smarter than me who will analyze this event, why it happened, and what does this all mean now.  Well, I have two observations for what it is worth about why it happened and what does it mean.  The first about the why:

  1. Gerrymandering.  We have spent a lot of time as citizens and elected officials worrying about financial bribes, buying elections, lobbyist and all the corruption that money might accomplish.  I think there is no greater corruption than what the elected officials did for themselves with gerrymandering.  They have RIGGED the elections.  Rigging an election is something no one would tolerate if the rig were simply buying votes with dollars.  So, how is it we accept this?

    Gerrymandering allows minority, unpopular and unlikely to win candidates that would not survive a general election from the general population in their state to effectively win.  Americans don’t like cheaters, and this is a form of cheating if you ask me.

What does it mean?

  1. Zero Sum Game.  The whole discussion before and after the ultimate resolution appears was about winning and losing.  Even how, every story is about  “we won and they lost” or vice versa.  This is ridiculous.   The people who lost were the citizens of the nation, the workers who were furloughed, recipients of assistance and on and on.  Even perhaps other countries around the world.  There are no winners that I can find.  Washington politics should not be about one party winning or losing.  It should about problem solving and finding good solutions for the nation, not some parochial party element.  Everyone benefits from good solutions.  Zero is an important word in this matter.

I tire of this endless debate of winning and losing.  And I tire of the corruption of the elections not by money, but by clever gerrymandering.  Shame on us voters for letting this happen.  We should think about how to undo it.

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 »

Remarks at the 2012 National Venture Capital Association Meeting

In Venture Capital on May 2, 2012 at 9:45 am

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the NVCA 2012 Annual Meeting.  My name is Ray Rothrock, a partner at Venrock.

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.
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JOBS Act is the Law – Congratulations America. Let’s get back to the Business of Innovation!

In Venture Capital on April 5, 2012 at 6:15 pm

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 »