San Francisco: Deepening his ties with Silicon Valley, former US vice-president Al Gore said on Monday that he had become a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
The alliance provides Gore an additional pulpit for his advocacy of environmental causes, but also gives the Nobel laureate an opportunity to nurture green businesses.
Venture capitalists said the move could help companies financed by Kleiner establish ties with big business and government, and obtain subsidies that encourage broader use of new technologies.
Gore’s part-time duties will entail investigating the growth potential of start-up companies focused on the alternative energy sector, and then weighing in on whether Kleiner Perkins should fund those companies.
Gore said he would donate his salary from the venture to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a non-profit policy foundation.
Venture capitalist partners also typically earn a management fee of 2% of the amount of money they invest, but the potential for home run returns comes from the 20% they take of the profit when the start-ups they invest in go public or are acquired. Kleiner Perkins declined to say whether Gore would receive a management fee or participate in profit sharing, noting that matters of compensation are private. “I will pull my share of the load at Kleiner Perkins,” Gore said in an interview. “I will be involved in a lot of activities.”
Gore is no stranger to Silicon Valley. He sits on the board of directors of Apple, and has an advisory role with Google. He is co-founder and chairman of Current TV, a television network based in San Francisco that broadcasts viewer-created content.
The Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2000, Gore keeps an apartment in San Francisco and spends five to six days a month in the area; a portion of that time will now be spent at Kleiner Perkins, which is based in Menlo Park, Gore said.
John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins who is a fierce advocate for the development of alternative energy technologies, said Gore will help the firm, one of Silicon Valley’s largest, attract innovative start-ups—an advantage in the firm’s competition with other venture capitalists.
Silicon Valley’s venture firms have focused increasingly on funding alternative energy start-ups, so-called cleantech companies.
The early investors are banking heavily—risking billions of dollars—on the proposition that solar power, various forms of ethanol, and other innovations will benefit as oil prices rise and federal and state governments increase incentives for use of alternatives to oil.
Thus far, though, very few of the alternative energy start-ups have rendered big payoffs for investors. The investments are relatively recent, and venture capitalists say it takes time for start-ups to grow to where the technology is ready for the mass market.
But the other more fundamental challenge is that oil and gas provide most of the world’s fuel and displacing them in a cost-effective way presents an enormous challenge.
Paul Kedrosky, a venture capitalist and author of the blog Infectious Greed, said that Gore’s new role could benefit start-up companies by providing guidance through the political process.
For instance, Kedrosky said, Gore would now have a financial incentive to push for subsidies, such as the tax incentives or rebates that have buoyed the solar industry, or to provide start-ups with important connections in government and big business.
“Anyone who thinks this is happening because Al has fantastic clean tech entrepreneurial chops is fooling themselves,” Kedrosky said. Alternative energy “is a policy issue, a political issue, and that requires connections to get things done.”
Gore “is a political rainmaker,” Kedrosky said. The association between Kleiner and Gore “just means that clean tech is an inherently political exercise.”
It is not unusual for politicians and other celebrities to join venture firms, or other investment companies, at least in some capacity. Former president Bill Clinton was an adviser to the financier Ronald W. Burkle, and Bono, the singer from the band U2, has an affiliation with Elevation Partners, a Silicon Valley investment firm. Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell serves as a strategic limited partner for Kleiner Perkins, a considerably less intimate role than that which Gore takes as a partner. Former president George H.W. Bush has had a relationship with the Carlyle Group, a private equity firm. As part of the affiliation announced on Monday, Kleiner Perkins said it would collaborate with Generation Investment Management to find and fund clean tech start-ups globally.
©2007/THE NEW YORK TIMES