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Propel Gets New CEO From @Ventures

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Matt Horton, a principal at @Ventures, tells us he has taken on a new job as the head of biofuel infrastructure startup Propel Biofuels. Propel plans to formally announce its new chief executive on Thursday. Horton has been investing in biofuels since 2004, leading deals in Clear Fuels and Cobalt Biofuels before leading @Ventures’ investment in Propel in 2007. The former CEO, co-founder Rob Elam, will remain on board as president.

Propel, which is working to set up a network of alternative fuel stations, opened its first five fuel stations in California last month. The company partners with fuel retailers — through undisclosed financial arrangements — and then builds, owns and operates biofuel pumps at those stations, making money by selling fuel. All together, Propel owns and operates 11 biofuel stations so far, with five in Sacramento, Calif., and the other six in its former hometown of Seattle.

Horton compared himself to T. Boone Pickens and Better Place CEO Shai Agassi in his new role, saying that he hopes to be as successful at pitching a different view of the potential future of transportation in the U.S. “Pickens has done a great job of evangelizing natural gas and Shai Agassi at Better Place has done a great job telling the story of electric vehicles,” he said. “But if you look at what technologies can make a real improvement today, you’ve got to look at where the vehicles are. There are 20 million vehicles on the road that can use biofuels today. So now you’ve got Shai Agassi, Pickens and me.”

Horton also plans to still work at @Ventures part-time. “I’m not sleeping as much,” he joked. Horton knows his new job will come with plenty of challenges, not the least of which will be raising the capital to build new stations. “Frankly, the biggest challenge in this market is the capital available through the debt and equity markets,” he said. The company also faces the difficulties of creating a new market, he said, including raising customer awareness that biofuels are currently available, and scaling up distribution.

But he thinks the potential rewards are well worth the risks. Horton said he decided to make the leap because he believes Propel addresses a key problem in the biofuel market — a lack of distribution outlets. “There’s so much production and nowhere for it to go,” he said. “All the producers are sitting on excess capacity. It’s just about giving people the opportunity to finally make a choice.”