Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey Joins Lux Capital

Former CIA Director, and colorful energy security advocate, Jim Woolsey has left greentech firm VantagePoint Venture Partners, and has joined East Coast firm Lux Capital as a partner, focused on investing in energy technologies. Lux made the announcement Tuesday morning, and also said it’s bringing on Richard Foster, former senior partner with McKinsey & Company, as a partner as well.

I chatted with Woolsey over the phone Monday afternoon, and we discussed his move to Lux and his energy passions, from a flex fuel mandate to smart grid security.

On Hopping Over to Lux

Woolsey said there were a couple of reasons for his move from VantagePoint Venture Partners to Lux Capital. First, Lux is based in New York, and Woolsey told me he has spent more and more of his time on the East Coast, teaching a class on energy at Yale, and two of his sons also live in New York City.

Woolsey also told me he liked the way Lux Capital has been focusing more on early stage energy companies. “They are very smart and quite interested in black swans. As am I.” said Woolsey, referring to the idea of very disruptive technologies and events that are game changers. He also noted the group was young and passionate, “I think everyone is young enough to be one of my kids,” he joked. (Woolsey is 69 years old).

Lux Capital invests across technologies, and has backed cleantech firms including Transphorm, Siluria, Crystal IS, and Kurion. Woolsey said he could also look outside of energy, and at sectors like security for IT, and biotech.

His Energy Ambitions

Woolsey discussed a variety of his cleantech passions with me in the interview. Those range from smart grid security — which Woolsey said most utilities aren’t paying enough attention to yet — to his support of a federal mandate for all vehicles to be made “flex fuel,” or able to run on biofuels. Oil as a transportation fuel is a monopoly, and giving biofuels an entry into the market is a way to break that monopoly, said Woolsey.

Not surprising given his CIA roots, Woolsey is bullish on technologies that can create energy security (reducing our reliance on Middle East oil), and he’s broadening his scope of cleantech firms outside of those that can reduce carbon emissions. He is interested in overall sustainability, pollution reduction and environmental technologies, not just climate change.

In terms of his next investments with Lux, Woolsey said he’s looking at multi-junction solar cells, ceramic batteries, the next generation of batteries after lithium-ion, nanotechnology and energy storage, and overall what is happening with material science and energy. The change in material science for something like solar might not be as dramatic as Moore’s Law, but it’s getting close, said Woolsey.

Image courtesy of JoeinSouthernCA and VantagePoint Venture Partners.