In the world of cleantech, women can be few and far between. Nancy Floyd, founder and managing director of cleantech VC firm Nth Power, knows this firsthand. Since founding Nth Power in 1993, she has sat on more than 15 boards — and only one of her fellow directors was a woman. When we asked her if she’s ever felt intimidated by the male dominance in the field, she first replied, “No,” and then added, “but I do over prepare.”
Compiling a list of the top 10 women in cleantech proved to be a difficult task. But as you’ll see from the brief profiles of those that we selected, their recognition is more than well-deserved.
1. Nancy Floyd, Founder and Managing Director of Nth Power: When Nancy Floyd started Nth Power in 1993, women were even less common in the industry that would become known as cleantech. A serial entrepreneur, Floyd decided to start her first venture firm with a focus on clean energy technology because she was already an expert in the space.
Prior to Nth Power, Floyd founded NFC Energy Corp., one of the country’s first wind development firms, which when it was sold three years later, generated a 25-fold return.
Floyd understands why it’s uncommon to find many women in the field. “You just don’t have many women with backgrounds that investors would back,” she told us. “You’re looking at energy industries that have been male-dominated for years and years. It’s not easy for anybody, but for investors to write a check, they’re going to want to see relevant background.”
2. Lissa Morgenthaler Jones, CEO of LiveFuels: Years ago, Jones would have never dreamt that one day she’d be running an algae biofuels startup. The daughter of one of America’s earliest venture capitalists, David Morgenthaler, Jones majored in economics at Princeton University and went on to win national regard as the top mutual fund manager in the U.S. for her management of the Monterey Murphy New World Biotechnology Fund. After a few other ventures and a short break, Jones founded LiveFuels in 2006. She hopes to help get the cost of algal biofuels to a point where they’re competitive with fossil fuels by 2010. Jones told me earlier this year when I interviewed her for Red Herring that for women CEOs in Silicon Valley, “…it gets a little easier day by day, but only by nanometers.”
3. Marianne Wu, Partner, Mohr Davidow Ventures: Wu focuses on cleantech investments for MDV, a venture capital firm that has backed the likes of Nanosolar (thin film solar), Jadoo Power Systems (fuel cells), ZeaChem (cellulosic ethanol), and other clean energy companies. Prior to joining MDV, Marianne was vice president of marketing at ONI Systems. She earned both her doctoral and master’s degrees from the School of Engineering at Stanford University. When we asked our sources to recommend the key women in cleantech right now, Wu always topped the list.
“As a woman, I find working in cleantech really gratifying,” Wu told us in an email. “I can marry my entrepreneurial, technical, and social interests. It’s a very diverse sector that draws from business, policy, and a broad array of technologies including biotech, material science and IT. I really enjoy combining all these different disciplines. They say women are better at multiplexing and enjoy it more. If so, I think cleantech really suits women.”
4. Diana Propper De Callejon, General Partner, Expansion Capital: With more than 14 years of work experience in clean technology, Propper is no newcomer to the industry. Her experience spans across energy, water, advanced materials and transportation. As part of her work at Expansion Capital, a cleantech venture firm, Propper serves on the board of directors of optical sensors firm Tiger Optics and Orion Energy Systems, an energy efficient lighting company that filed for an IPO in August to raise up to $100 million.
5. Julia Judd Hamm, Executive Director of the Solar Electric Power Association and Chair of the Solar Power Conference and Expo: Julia Judd Hamm makes our list for organizing Solar Power, one of the largest solar conferences in the U.S. This year’s conference had over 8,000 registered attendees, up from last year’s 6,500. Previously, she worked as a senior associate at ICF International, an energy and environmental consulting firm, where she supported the EPA with implementation of its Energy Star program.
6. Whitney Rockley, Principal of New Energy and Clean Technology Ventures, Nomura International: In February, Whitney Rockley relocated to London from Canada — where she worked as VP of finance with non-profit TEC Edmonton and helped establish an early-stage technology fund — to join Nomura, where she now works as a Principal of New Energy and Clean Technology Ventures. Prior to TEC, Rockley worked at EPCOR, a power and water company that owns power generation, transmission and distribution networks in North America. As director of corporate venture capital at EPCOR, she started and managed an energy and water venture fund. She also led and developed the company’s greenhouse gas emission reduction portfolio strategy.
7. Susan B. Leschine, Founder and Chief Scientist of SunEthanol: A senior faculty member in the Microbiology Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Dr. Leschine is internationally known as an authority on the biology and diversity of cellulose-digesting microbes. Her research formed the basis for SunEthanol’s Q Microbe biodigesting technology and in August, the company raised its Series A funding round to commercialize the finds of Leschine’s research.
8. Rachel Segalman, Charles Wilke Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley: We learned of Segalman’s research work when she was recognized this year in Technology Review’s TR35, a list honoring the top innovators under age 35. Segalman’s research involves producing cheap electricity from heat. Since most of the energy in fuels is wasted in heat, figuring out a way to turn that waste energy into actual useful fuel or electricity is a worthwhile challenge. Segalman has discovered that cheap organic molecules can be used to generate electricity from heat. Voltage amounts are small for now, but Segalman and her research team are constantly experimenting and modifying the molecules to see if they can improve the electricity output.
9. Christine Bergeron, Vice President, Investments, Chrysalix Energy Management: Bergeron has worked for Chrysalix since its inception in 2001. Now she leads the firm’s investments, which have included Novazone, Fat Spaniel Technologies, Akermin, and HydroPoint Data Systems. She currently serves on the board of Akermin and is also a director and member of the investment and finance committee of E+CO, a public purpose investment company that supports local enterprises supplying sustainable energy in less-developed countries. She is also a board member at LightHouse Sustainable Building Center, an enterprising non-profit society dedicated to advancing sustainable building practices.
10. Lorraine Bolsinger, Vice President of General Electric’s (GE) Ecomagination: A former engineer, Bolsinger previously headed up marketing for GE’s aircraft engine division before shifting gears to run GE Energy’s “Ecoimagination” initiative, which launched in 2005. Bolsinger is now responsible for partnering with customers, researchers and organizations with a goal of bringing to market technologies that will help its customers meet environmental challenges.