Mossadiq Umedaly, chairman of Canadian utility BC Hydro, will join the Vancouver, Canada-based venture firm Ventures West to help the company raise and invest its first clean energy fund, we’ve learned. Ventures West Clean Energy Fund, as it’s currently being called, is expected to be worth somewhere around C$200 million ($157.6 million) and will launch in the second half of this year, Umedaly told us at the Cleantech Forum in San Francisco on Wednesday. The partners, which include Sam Znaimer and David Berkowitz, are currently gauging interest from potential investors, which he said seems high so far.
Umedaly, who was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the event this week, will keep his position at BC Hydro and said he plans to remain fully committed to his duties there. Umedaly previously served as CEO of Xantrex Technology, which makes electrical inverters and chargers, and chief financial officer of fuel cell company Ballard Power Systems. He also helped to develop a medical university and teaching hospital in Pakistan as part of his work with Aga Khan Development Network, a nonprofit, and started his career at accounting firm Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers).
Ventures West, which has invested in more than 150 companies in its more than 35-year history, has backed cleantech startups before. In fact, it made its first cleantech investment in Ballard, Umedaly’s former employer. Umedaly later led Xantrex’s acquisition of Statpower Technologies Corp., also when it was a Ventures West portfolio company. “We’re still on talking terms, so that tells you something,” he said, laughing.
The Clean Energy Fund will be focused strongly on energy efficiency and smart-grid technologies, including those associated with charging electric vehicles, and will look “opportunistically” at renewable energy opportunities, Umedaly said.
Umedaly thinks experience — including his own — will differentiate the Ventures West Clean Energy Fund from the pack. “Many cleantech funds have great financial engineers, but not many have experience creating a product and selling it in this industry, and getting to volume,” he said. “Money is one thing, but smart money capable of adding value is not that abundant.”
In spite of the recession, Umedaly said he’s “never seen a better time” to invest in cleantech. Public awareness of environmental and energy security issues, as well as the political will to support clean energy solutions, is at an all-time high, he said. “My feeling is when you have a confluence like this, you need to take action,” he said.