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Summary:

Greentech startups captured four out of the five biggest U.S. venture capital rounds last year — and if it weren’t for Twitter, they might have landed all five.

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UPDATED: U.S. greentech startups captured four out of the five highest grossing VC rounds of 2010, according to the MoneyTree Report based on data from Thomson Reuters, which was released on Friday. If it weren’t for Twitter, greentech might have landed all five top spots.

While last year ended on a high note for green technology with global investment reaching record levels in areas like clean power asset financing, greentech venture capital investing actually declined in the third and fourth-quarters. But clearly the year was dominated by these massive bets.

Electric car charging startup Better Place took the top spot with a $350 million May infusion. That’s ahead of Twitter’s $200 million investment last month, according to the report. The rest of the top five included a $150 million round raised by solar thermal leader BrightSource Energy, $110 million for U.S.-based Abound Solar and $105 million for smart grid networking startup Trilliant, the report stated.(UPDATE: The MoneyTree report doesn’t mention thin-film solar startup Solyndra, which raised $175 million in the second quarter, because it sold convertible debt to existing investors, and the MoneyTree report tracks equity.)

I dig into the state of greentech VC financing in depth in my just-released fourth quarter review at GigaOm Pro (subscription required), but the MoneyTree numbers help put the U.S. green scene into perspective in a few key ways. First, it shows that even as greentech VC investment shrank from quarter to quarter in 2010, it still grew at a pace of 76 percent compared to 2009 — one of the fastest year-over-year improvements of any industry sector, except for telecommunications’ 77 percent increase.

Greentech’s overall 2010 VC haul of $3.7 billion couldn’t match the software sector’s $4 billion, which was up 20 percent from the previous year. The cross-sector category of “Internet-specific” companies also performed well, raising $3.87 billion, up 28 percent from the previous year. (Note: The MoneyTree report figures for 2010 greentech VC investment differ slightly from the $7.8 billion reported by the Cleantech Group or the $8.8 billion reported by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.)

One potentially worrisome spot for greentech startups, however, is the issue of early stage investments, which saw a marked decline in the first half of 2010. While early-stage greentech deals picked up in the second half of last year, that wasn’t enough to give the sector a lead against other hot sectors like software, biotechnology and media-entertainment, which racked up the most first-time financings last year. Indeed, whether or not hundred million dollar, late-stage investments represent strength or trouble for some of greentech’s biggest players is open to question.

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  1. They don’t mention Solyndra because it was convertible debt, they are only talking about equity venture investments.

  2. Solar Firm BrightSource Raising $100M: Cleantech News and Analysis « Monday, February 14, 2011

    [...] and options and closed about $176 million of that in the Summer of 2010, according to a filing. That was one of the biggest fund raising rounds in all of VC last [...]

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