A lot of people have been wondering what Martin Tobias has been up to since he left Imperium Renewables, a startup he led to become one of the largest biodiesel producers in the U.S., last December. Well, surfing, for one; he runs a surf camp in the Seattle area. And he’ll soon travel to the Indonesian eco-resort Nihiwatu to help them build a biodiesel refinery. But he’s also been looking for his next company to run. “I still have another company in me,” Tobias said at the Future In Review Conference (FiRe). He described his search as a “bumping-into-trees phase.”
Tobias is well-known in both the Internet and cleantech worlds. He’s a former Internet entrepreneur who founded and ran streaming media company Loud Eye. He was also one of the early dotcommers to go green (and was our No. 16 pick for 25 Who Ditched Infotech for Cleantech), leading Imperium all the way up to considering an IPO, though the company pulled its public offering a short time later. Tobias told us he left Imperium because he and the board disagreed over how fast to keep growing the company; the board wanted to be more cautious, he said, while Tobias wanted to keep ramping up.
So he left to look for his next venture. What’s it going to be? Tobias already has a few possibilities in mind. He’s been making investments into cleantech companies, including three startups that he described to us at the conference, through a Seattle-based angel network called the Northwest Energy Angel Group. One is Invenure Chemical (a firm we profiled in our 15 Algae Startups post). The Seattle-based startup says it has developed an algae-to-biofuel conversion method that uses one efficient, low-cost step, as opposed to the multi-step process used by competitors.
Another possibility is Greenwood Technologies, a startup that has developed high-efficiency wood boilers. Tobias said the company will likely do $10 million in revenues this year. While wood boilers have traditionally been far from “green,” Greenwood’s product supposedly burns smoke and gas inside the device, cutting down on emissions.
The option that Tobias seemed the most excited about was the one he talked the least about. He said he’s looking at a company that replaces coal with biomass to burn in coal plants. Coal plants already have transmission lines in place, and the idea would be to make a “plug-in-play” bio alternative to coal, he said. But he wouldn’t name the company, and said he’s looking at the entire space for opportunities.
And because Tobias has a long history in the Internet world, he’s also looking at where the Internet meets green. In particular, he’s been looking at different software companies that focus on the energy space, and said that if he works with one of those companies he’d likely do an investment through a venture firm he works with that has a strong Internet background, Ignition Partners. He’s also an avid blogger, so check out his site, especially his musings on the cleantech industry (though we do disagree with his thoughts on Obama).
Regardless of what he decides on, Tobias is in no hurry to make a choice. “Maybe one of these companies will light my fire and I’ll run it,” was how he put it. For now he’s headed down to Indonesia to surf and help an island owner build a biodiesel refinery. Sounds like a tough life. Yeah, that’s him surfing in the video below.