Remembering a cleantech champion


Like many people, I was shocked and saddened to learn of David Anthony’s passing. I had the privilege of working with and learning from David for the past four years, which were some of the best of my professional career.  During that time I took part in David’s brainchild: a marketing firm focused exclusively on cleantech companies that was founded to service the 21Ventures portfolio as well as other cleantech companies.

Working with David Anthony wasn’t always easy, but it was always inspiring. His tone, his cadence, and these pregnant pauses he always took when he spoke were more suggestive of a Zen Buddhist than your typical type-A venture capitalist. His patience was one his defining characteristics.

At his core, David Anthony was a teacher who happened to also excel at investing. David used to love speaking at conferences and lecturing around the world. He taught courses at various universities such as, From Idea to IPO, at the New York Academy of Sciences, which taught scientists how to commercialize their technology. DA, as he liked being called, was a voracious reader who synthesized information about the numerous disciplines endemic to cleantech faster than just about anyone I have encountered. He would then love to transmit that information anyway he could: in articles, newsletters, phone calls. Like I said, a natural teacher.

David possessed a calm assurance and expected those around him to succeed. Oftentimes, that confidence was infectious. At the same time, he was willing to admit his mistakes. One time DA approached me with the idea that 21Ventures should post a section featuring portfolio companies that had failed. As a marketer I was horrified at the idea, and successfully talked him out of this. In hindsight, DA’s willingness to admit that not every company he worked with turned to gold was just the kind of self-effacement that inspires loyalty and confidence.

David practiced meditation, traveled the world constantly and sat on the board of numerous cleantech companies (some startups and some established companies). He did all of this despite the fact that he was legally blind. It was a fact that he would never shy away from. To the contrary, I recall once he told me that he wouldn’t necessarily want it back – even if this were possible. Incredulous, I asked him why not. “Because it helps me do my job better,” he said. “To be a VC and vet all of these ideas and companies you have be a good listener.”

This recent video clip of DA speaking on a panel at a cleantech investing conference in Israel (where DA had invested in four cleantech companies), demonstrates his poise and thoughtfulness. I’m pretty sure that’s the last public speaking engagement he participated in before his untimely death.

Due to DA’s seeing impairment, I used to help him pen some of his articles to industry publications such as these articles for GigaOm. When David would approach me with a topic for an article he wanted to write, it was always with conviction. Some of his more memorable assertions were that despite their good intentions, the Obama administration blew it with their promise of $73 billion dedicated to the cleantech sector.  He used to say, “It’s very difficult for those of us who regularly invest in cleantech to pick winners. Why should the government assume they can?”  David posited that hedging their bets would have been a better strategy. “Instead of giving $500 million to one company, why not give $10 million to 50 companies?”

David also believed that in order for utility scale renewable energy generation to win, it would need better storage solutions, due to its intermittency.

David was a big believer in selling clean technologies to China and India, which he saw as ideal markets for clean technology because of their government’s stated goals and their economic, political and social needs. He firmly held that grid parity for renewable or clean energy made the most sense in these emerging markets where they still need to make considerable capital investments just to keep up with demand, as opposed to the U.S. where a ‘balanced grid’ exists. He always believed that great technology and disruption would come from the west but he was betting that those technologies would be sold to China and India.

During the time that I knew him, DA had his share of ups and downs, successes and failures. Yet as I reflect on his legacy I see a person who loved his work, was a natural teacher and had an infectious passion for changing the world through cleantech. It was only a few weeks ago that David told me that he wanted to spend the rest of his life “solving the world’s greatest problems”.  At the time neither of us knew how short that life was going to be, but I can tell you that his impact, through teachings, investments and thoughtful management will be felt in the industry for many years to come.

David Andrew Goldman is a friend and colleague of David Anthony’s. He works at The Cline Group where he is a vice president and cleantech practice leader. Yehuda Solomont also contributed to this article. Yehuda is an independent marketing consultant living in Jerusalem.

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