NEA adds cleantech operating muscle

Cleantech talent is scarce, especially when it comes to investment pros who know how to scale a company from proof-of-concept to industrial production.

Last week, New Enterprise Associates announced it grabbed some cleantech competence when it added former SunPower COO PM Pai to its team as a venture partner to help its portfolio companies bridge the gap from laboratory to factory.

Peter Barris, an NEA managing general partner, says Pai will help the firm’s startups rapidly commercialize technologies, thanks to his manufacturing and production background.

He’ll have plenty to work with. NEA has invested in nine cleantech companies to date, according to data from Thomson Reuters (publisher of PE Week).

And those companies aren’t small. Six to eight are pushing more than $50 million in revenue and looking to rapidly expand, says Partner Ravi Viswanathan.

“We’ve focused on profitability so that when we emerge from these dark times we’ll have growing companies with a good bottom line,” he says. “Whenever the markets return they’ll be of sufficient mass that with reasonable market multiples.”

Pai is already sitting on the boards of two NEA-backed companies. He works with solar-cell maker Suniva, which has raised $130 million from NEA, Warburg Pincus, Querecus Equity, Apex Venture Partners and H.I.G. Capital, according to regulatory documents. Pai also sits on the board of energy storage company Deeya Energy, which has raised $55 million from NEA, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Element Partners, BlueRun Ventures and Technology Partners.

Pai will also help with due diligence and determining appropriate valuations for potential NEA investments.

“If you were a fly on the wall in our energy group meetings, you would learn that the financing of the cleantech market is something we focus on,” Viswanathan says. “It’s an opportunity for us because valuations are attractive. It also helps to have in-house experts who can evaluate this.”

Prior to SunPower, Pai worked as a president of optical storage company Moser Baer India. —Alexander Haislip