CC030: investing in socially responsible, high-growth companies // a coffee chat with Rose Maizner (RenewableTech Ventures)

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Rose Maizner 0:00
The average time to exit for hard tech companies in this space is closer to five years, I think. So it’s actually a lot quicker than I think a lot of people have assumed for a long time; people have assumptions that it’s going to be 10, 12, 15 years. But looking at the data, it actually is more appropriate for an end-fits-well-within kind of a venture model. So I do wish that there was a little bit more of an understanding on the LP side about the opportunities that exist and what this landscape really does look like, not just in terms of the impact, but also when it comes to the potential for really exciting returns.

Jay Clouse 0:32
The startup investment landscape is changing, and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them, and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to upside.

Jay Clouse 1:00
Hello, hello, hello, and welcome to the Upside Podcast, the first podcast finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Jay Clouse, and I’m accompanied by my co-host, Mr. Lover-of-the-hard-sciences himself, Eric Hornung.

Eric Hornung 1:11
Jay, we’ve had so many cool companies on that are just…doing things that I have no idea how to even begin to understand.

Jay Clouse 1:19
Do you yet feel comfortable enough, if you were wearing your investor hat, to start throwing some money into hard science companies?

Eric Hornung 1:27
I think I feel more comfortable. I don’t think I’m at a place where I understand how the business model evolves from, hey, we’re non dilutive, and we are really focused on building out this product and this technology, and then how does that transition to the commercial? That transition is still where I have my most amount of questions. But I guess as an investor, that’s probably what you’re coming on for, is to help them think about this, getting it out of the academic setting and into the more commercial setting.

Jay Clouse 1:55
If I’m an investor, I love the fact that so many of these founders seem to be going a non-dilutive route to start because not diluting me either. But I wonder if, on the show here, if we’ve over represented founders who have gone through a non-dilutive route, or if that truly is either necessity or just more available to companies in the hard sciences.

Eric Hornung 2:19
My take is that, when you’re developing the technology and you’re kind of doing things that aren’t commercially specific, I think that there’s a lot of grant money, there’s a lot of academic money, there’s a lot of resources that you can use in that pursuit, if you want to. But Jay, we haven’t really talked to any investors who are really investing in the hard sciences space. We’re both big fans of Josh Wolfe. He’s kind of playing in this space. We haven’t talked to him on the podcast, and we don’t really see many investors who have this focus.

Jay Clouse 2:48
Well, today, my friend, that is going to change. We’re speaking with Rose Maizner, a partner at RenewableTech Ventures, which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah. RenewableTech Ventures is an early stage, cleantech, venture fund invested an early stage innovations and energy, clean technology, green materials, and other clean tech. They were founded in 2010. Technically, they are a Canadian fund domiciled in Alberta, Canada, but based and operating out of Salt Lake City.

Eric Hornung 3:15
I wonder how common that structure is.

Jay Clouse 3:17
I don’t know. I thought it was new and unique. One of our former — in a former life when I was doing Tixers — the company that purchased us had investment from Canadian investors, it was a Canadian company, based in Florida with an executive team lead living in the UK. And I thought that was the strangest thing that I’ve ever heard of. So, maybe it’s actually not all that uncommon. There might be some benefits to being domiciled in Canada that we don’t know, whether it’s for the type of companies that they invest in, or whether it’s for being a fund. I don’t know. So maybe we should ask Rose that here on the pod. Rose is also a co-founder of Womenpreneurs, working with women and entrepreneurship in the Salt Lake area. I’m sure that will come up in the conversation as well.

Eric Hornung 4:01
And before we get into the interview, just want to give a shout out to Jessica Pelts for connecting us with Rose, as she has done with so many of our recent guests.

Jay Clouse 4:09
So if you have thoughts as we go through this interview, you can tweet at us as always @upsidefm, or email us, and we’ll get into the interview right after this. Eric, what do SAS companies, autonomous vehicle companies, cyber security companies, blockchain companies, and consumer marketplaces all have in common.

Eric Hornung 4:28
They’re all companies.

Jay Clouse 4:29
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Eric Hornung 4:55
They can do it all, and we’ve seen them do it all. They are impressive.

Jay Clouse 4:58
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Eric Hornung 5:17
Integrity Power Search: Who you gonna call? That’s their slogan, right?

Jay Clouse 5:20
I don’t think it is, but maybe it is now.

Eric Hornung 5:22
All right. You’re welcome for that one, Caleb.

Jay Clouse 5:31
Rose, welcome to the show.

Rose Maizner 5:33
Thank you so much, happy to be here.

Eric Hornung 5:35
On Upside, we like to start with a background of the guest. Can you tell us the history of Rose?

Rose Maizner 5:40
Sure. I am your least likely venture capitalist. Well, maybe not least likely, but pretty, pretty high up there. I started my career firmly in the nonprofit sector as like, you know, wearing my heart on my sleeve do-gooder. That’s, like, I think, I started my first nonprofit, in giant air quotes, when I was about seven or eight years old. It was called Life: Low Income Family Earnings, and I baked cookies and forced the people in my mother’s office to buy them. And then — and she worked at an organization called the Children’s Center here in Salt Lake, and then they would be donated, or I would donate the profits from the cookies to the folks that she was working with. And so I had always thought that I wanted to work in the nonprofit sector. And then, I did, and pretty quickly burnt out. I was in the nonprofit sector in Utah starting in about 2009. And I mean, that was, those were tough times all around, but especially for the nonprofit community. And it just seemed like there was a lot of competition. We were constantly chasing funds and not focusing as much on actually serving the communities we wanted to be serving. And it just seemed like there had to be another model out there where you could do goodn but be more effective, and have kind of more sustainable funding models. And, and I went to a presentation in 2011 I believe, or 12, on this crazy thing called Impact Investing, and, you know, it was the proverbial light bulb moment. I knew that that was what I wanted to be doing. I told my family that I was going to move into venture capital, and they thought I’d had a stroke. They couldn’t believe that there, you know, nonprofit daughter wanted to jump into the realm of venture capitalists. But I was fortunate to find a really phenomenal venture capital fund here in Salt Lake that had just gotten started up, RenewableTech Ventures. And it seemed like, you know, they were investing in cleantech solutions, it seemed like that must be what impact investing is. I sat down for the first time with the fund founder, Todd Stevens, and told him, like, that’s so cool that you have an impact investment fund in Utah. And he’s like, what is an impact investment fund? And it was at that time when impact was really niche. And so, I was really fortunate because I had no background in venture capital, no background in cleantech, but I kind of positioned myself as someone who could help them develop the impact side of things. And basically spent about a year having lunch with the team and convincing them that they really should hire this completely under-qualified, nonprofit sector enthusiast, and that somehow I’d be a good fit for venture capital. So that’s how I kind of made my way into the space. And I, I, once we finally decided that it would be a good fit, we were going to do kind of like a trial for a couple months. Actually sat down for my first day at work and was like, what have I done? Promptly googled venture capitalists, like, actually, don’t really know what I’m supposed to be doing now. And then spent the next several years basically learning alongside the best of the impossible. It’s been a true apprenticeship, I’ve been doing it for six and a half years now, learned from some of the best. I started out as an analyst, became an associate, and now I’m a Partner in our second fund. So that is my story of becoming the least likely venture capitalist.

Eric Hornung 8:52
I know that in nonprofits, people were a lot of hats. But what were your kind of roles when you were working in the nonprofit space?

Rose Maizner 8:58
Yeah, well, another thing that I had going for me is that I had mostly done fundraising. I mean, I feel like at one point or another, if you want to work in the nonprofit sector, you’re forced into fundraising, whether you like it or not. So I was very comfortable asking people for money. And it turns out that, when you make the jump into venture capital or working in the startup ecosystem, that is a skill that is very valuable. I have no problem trying to figure out, you know, A, who a good target for your fundraising would be, and then talking to them about why they should give us their money, or why they should give one of our portfolio companies their money. So that’s what I’d mostly been focusing on in the nonprofit sector, although we, you know, again, to your point, everyone wears many hats. So I had been an Associate Director and Interim Executive Director, doing all sorts of things from literally mopping floors to hosting and organizing events to developing programs.

Jay Clouse 9:49
Were you always comfortable asking people for money, or did that come through working in nonprofits for a while?

Rose Maizner 9:54
I kind of jumped right into the fundraising side of things, and I think I was just too young and naive to know that not everyone wants to ask people for money or be asked for money. So it was not anything that I felt like I had to really prepare myself for or seek additional training to be able to do.

Eric Hornung 10:13
How do you define impact investing?

Rose Maizner 10:16
It’s interesting, I actually listened to your podcast with Vermont Works, the Vermont Works folks who I’ve had the chance to meet, and I think what they’re doing is amazing, and I appreciate his description of — you know, you can define impact in, in many ways, and some people think of it, you know, in terms of doing good first and foremost, and then while also doing well sometimes. You would think of it more as, like, venture philanthropy or a different way to allocate money that would otherwise just be a donation and not expecting a strong financial return. For us, at RenewableTech, we call ourselves actually an IRR-driven impact fund. So we believe that it is possible to invest in really exciting opportunities that have the potential for tremendous environmental and often social impact, while also generating strong financial returns, you know, that are competitive in venture capital more broadly.

Eric Hornung 11:02
When you were thinking about going from nonprofiteer to capitalis, and you said you were talking to RenewableTech Ventures for about a year, were you looking at other companies as well, other firms? Was, was there more of this going on in Utah and more broadly?

Rose Maizner 11:17
Oh, no, all my eggs were in that one, small basket. That was in part because, at the time, there really wasn’t much impact investing happening in Utah and Salt Lake specifically. And then, I, you know, I think it was just that team specifically seemed so ideal to me, both because they were willing to give me the time of day and clearly willing to work with me, and, and to make it a true apprenticeship. You know, we talked early on about needing to get an MBA if I was really going to be serious about this. And they said that they would support me in that. And they stayed true to that promise. They not only helped me to get an MBA, but let me, you know, pick the academic institution of my choice. I really wanted to go outside of Utah, I felt like a great Utah network, so they put up with me commuting to Berkeley for 19 months and being in the office maybe one day a week if they were lucky. So, you know, I early on felt like this, if I was going to do the whole venture capital thing, I wanted it to be with this team and with this firm.

Jay Clouse 12:14
I’m interested to hear, coming on the back of your nonprofit experience, how you found yourself in a presentation on impact investing in the first place?

Rose Maizner 12:21
Yeah, that’s a great question. It was, I think that Utah Society of Fundraisers was trying to mix things up a little bit and asked Darien Rodriguez Heyman, who was a guest lecturer at Berkeley at the time, to come and be the keynote speaker. It didn’t make a ton of sense, but they did. It was a pivotal turning point for me. So I’m forever grateful that they had a really inappropriate keynote speaker at this fundraising conference. And he talked about impact investing and talked about everything that Berkeley was doing as a kind of thought leader in the space that was, you know, it was so early at that time. I went home that night, actually, and was like, yep, this is what I want to do, apparently, Berkeley is doing it, I should probably go to Berkeley, and sign up for their mailing list, you know, years before that was ever even a possibility — I would, there’s no way I would have been accepted at the time. And I think I still might it emails from their full time program. So, you know, that was a pivotal moment, not just in helping me understand my interest in impact investing, but also really setting me on a path towards getting a degree from an institution that has done so much work in that space.

Eric Hornung 13:19
When I think about Salt Lake City, I don’t think immediately cleantech, RenewableTech. Why’re RenewableTech Ventures in Salt Lake?

Rose Maizner 13:28
Utah’s not known for its really progressive environmental policies. It’s in part because we have to fund founders, Todd Stevens — Todd is a Utah native, as as I — and he had started a venture fund research ventures in Utah later became epic ventures, which is one of the more well known firms here, and he had a background in renewable energy generation. He’s kind of your classic accidental impact investor in that he started to think about, you know, he was at a point where he’d raised a number of funds with with EPIC ventures, they had some great success stories, but he really wanted to do something that he felt would leave a better legacy and put his money, you know, to work in areas that were, that was doing something good for the world. Again, he had no idea that impact investing was a thing. He was just someone who recognized that this was his value set, and he wanted to start investing alongside, you know, along that value set. And so he left EPIC and brought a few of the guys from EPIC with him, and then teamed up with Dal Zemp, who was a serial entrepreneur at the time living in Alberta, Canada. And so it was mostly just a function of the fact that, you know, where our team happened to be based. It was not because Utah at the time was a particularly exciting landscape for cleantech, although we have, some of our investments in our first fund are you tech companies. And increasingly, I’m constantly impressed by the progress that we’ve made as a state in terms of improving the policies that are supportive of cleantech, and also incubating some really exciting cleantech companies. It’s not a cleantech hub by any means. But there’s at least a lot of progress that has been made.

Eric Hornung 14:57
Where do you find most of your investments being made geographically, if only a few are in Utah?

Rose Maizner 15:01
So our first fund, we focused on the Rocky Mountain region. And part of our thesis — and I should back up a little bit just to say that we were first deploying capital in 2011 and 12 and fundraising in 2011, and it was not a good time to be fundraising in general, especially for cleantech. For folks who know kind of the history with cleantech in the venture capital community, the boom and subsequent bust was all happening in kind of 2008, and then it bottomed out in about 2011. And so when Todd first had the idea for coming up with a cleantech fund in what is arguably the worst time to be fundraising for a new, cleantech fund, he really wanted to to develop a model that he felt was a more kind of responsible way to invest in cleantech using venture as an asset class. And so one of the things that he looked at was the type of investments that were being made — and we can talk about this in a little, in a little bit — but essentially, our investment thesis is that we use at cleantech investment lens and look across sectors and industries. That does not sound novel now. But at the time, that was, like, people were like well, is that even cleantech, it’s not, there’re no batteries and biofuels and solar in your portfolio, how’s that a cleantech fund? But I think he was a little bit ahead of the curve in recognizing that there are all these other really exciting opportunities out there that are arguably a better fit for the venture model in terms of capital requirements, time to an exit. One of the things that we look for in our fund is what we call a resilient revenue model, which means the company can’t be dependent on tax incentives or subsidies or specific regulatory environment, even a specific macroeconomic condition for success. And again, all of that was kind of overlooked in cleantech 1.0. And then the second part of that model was looking in areas that had been ignored by the venture capital community, not just in cleantech, but more broadly. And so, and recognizing that there were these really exciting technologies that were coming out of areas where, you know, there was a strong strategic community and great relationships already in place. And where, you know, valuations where lower deals were less competitive, and the cost of doing business was a lot lower. And especially for, you know, a hard tech company, that was really important. And so we focused in the Rocky Mountain region in fund one, and with our second fund we have kind of expanded to look at the western and central regions in the US and Canada more broadly, but still focusing on those underserved regions, just because we found such exciting deals there, and you know, again, recognize that often these deals, you know, thinking about, like ag-deals, for example, in Idaho, I mean, there’s such a strong strategic and community there, and there’s so much support from industry in that region, it makes so much sense to have an ag-company in Idaho. You know, you wouldn’t want an ag-company, you know, to be in Boston, necessarily.

Jay Clouse 17:39
When did you guys close fund two?

Rose Maizner 17:41
We have not closed fund two. So we are fundraising right now. We decided to start fundraising a little bit later I think then then most funds. We really, because we’ve been very intentional about building kind of a new model for investing in cleantech, we really wanted to have a track record, we wanted to have exits. And so, we started to fundraise once we had two exit events that were kind of in the works. And so, we have one acquisition that will be wrapped up in the next six to eight weeks. And then we have a partial exit out of another one of our companies, and that should be done within the next month. So once we had some visibility into when those two liquidity events would be happening, we decided that was a good time that we had, you know, enough of a track record, we had some good data behind our model, and we could go out and start fundraising. So it’s a little bit later than I think most funds would traditionally wait before raising a second fund. But again, we decided if we hadn’t figured out a good model, we shouldn’t be doing this. So let’s wait till we have the results in.

Eric Hornung 18:38
Are your LPs generally Utah centric?

Rose Maizner 18:40
No, not necessarily. We do have a couple of Utah LPs and LPs from this region. But again, partly because of just the timing of fund one, there was a lot more interest in Europe than in the US, I think, for a number of reasons, when cleantech was still kind of a new space for a lot of folks, and then those people who were familiar with it hated it. It wasn’t a very receptive environment here for fundraising. So our anchor investor is actually a Swiss Family. What’s been nice, though, is now looking at, you know, in raising fund two, and looking at the landscape and how its evolved, especially with the progress that has been made in the impact community. We have found a lot more interest here at home, which has been phenomenal. We would love to work with, you know, investors in our backyard who actually have the tents to to see some of the companies and come out and understand the impact that’s being made, not just in, you know, quarterly and annual reports, but in person because it’s literally in their backyard

Jay Clouse 19:36
I see for investments on the website. Is that the total number investments from fund one?

Rose Maizner 19:43
We made five investments total. So, four are still standing, which is a pretty good batting average. They, yeah, the the four that are, are still with us have done quite well, and we’re really optimistic about the upside for each of them.

Jay Clouse 19:55
Upside. I like what you did there. You’ve alluded to a couple of times this, this greentech or cleantech boom that happened in the late 2000s. For listeners who aren’t aware, can you give us an overview of that landscape and what was happening and why some investors are so sensitive to it?

Rose Maizner 20:13
Sure. Yeah. So I think, you know, again, this was long before my days in venture capital, so I was still wearing all my nonprofit hats during that time and not paying any attention to what was happening in venture capital, in cleantech specifically. But having spent a lot of time kind of researching what happened, obviously hindsight is 20:20, but it seems, you know, like, some of the issues were really around the fact that people got very excited about the space and jumped in without fully understanding what commercializing cleantech meant and how that was different than commercializing, you know, software companies or some of the typical successes from venture at that time. So a lot of folks, I think, a, didn’t understand how early some of the technology was. It was really too early. So people were investing and expecting an exit in two to five years, when really, it was a biofuel company that was going to take, they’re still in kind of the r&d phase, and it was going to be 10 to 15 years befor, they were at a point where where they could be acquired. Another thing that I think people didn’t really understand were all the capital requirements that, especially some of those more capital intensive companies like batteries, and biofuels, and solar, things that were really popular at that time. And so, you know, people invested a couple million and then, you know, didn’t realize that it was going to take 100 million, again, to get them to the point where they actually had a commercially viable product. And then lastly, I think, you know, there were a lot of kind of macroeconomic factors at play that didn’t help the fact that it was already a difficult and probably inappropriate investment for cleantech in terms of…there was, obviously in 2008, the recession, and then you also saw China undercutting a lot of US companies when it came to solar, and that really adversely affecting the, you know, companies that UC’s had poured way too much money in, into in the US in solar. And so, it was a number of different, maybe poor investment decisions compounded by macroeconomic factors that, I mean, it was a bloodbath. I think I was reading some statistic that less than half of funds even returned invested capital. So it was not, not a pretty picture. And I think people really innovate. They were, I mean, obviously, if you get burned like that, you’re not going to jump back into the space lightly. And so, I think there’s some people who still feel that cleantech is not an appropriate option for venture capital and that it requires more patient capital or kind of different financing options. But, you know, we’ve found that there really are some great opportunities out there that again, if you, we, you know, so we talked about the cleantech lens; the second lens we apply is what we call a venture lens. And if you use that second screen, you can actually find some really exciting, highly investable opportunities in the space.

Eric Hornung 22:55
What are some characteristics or examples of companies that look really good through this cleantech lens and the venture lens?

Rose Maizner 23:03
There’s a — I’ll give an example of a company in our current portfolio. So Solid Carbon Products is one of our Utah companies. And they have developed a way to take CO2 and turn it into high value carbon nanomaterials: carbon black, carbon nanotubes, nano fiber. And what’s exciting about that is because, obviously, if you think about taking CO2 and basically you’re, you’re permanently sequestering it through this process, so you’re eliminating CO2 emissions. You’re also offsetting other CO2 emissions because a lot of the, for example, carbon black, the process to create carbon black is a highly…it’s a dirty industry and the emissions profile is pretty nasty. So, you know, on the environmental side, that’s great. You know, there’s a clear impact that’s being made, it’s measurable, and it’s really significant. But on the, you know, the venture side of things, looking at, you know, a really exciting market opportunity, and then looking at the economics, the, you know, the market for carbon black, it’s established, it’s really substantial. The markets for carbon nanotubes and carbon nanofiber are smaller, but there’s a lot of interest in those areas. And one of the prohibitive factors so far has been the fact that the price of carbon nanotubes and carbon nanofiber is so high that it can’t be used for a lot of applications where it would be appropriate. There’s something like 150,000 patent applications that have been filed with the USBTO for different, innovative ways to use CMTs and CNF, and they just, you know, the economics just haven’t worked out yet. So what was really exciting to us about solid carbon is that they are price competitive with carbon black, and the system that they use, it’s just a matter of tweaking process inputs to go from carbon black to carbon nanotubes. So the cost of goods is the same, which means that the margins are really exciting, and they’re able to produce these much more valuable carbon morphologies at a price point that no one has been able to do so far. And so, you know, we clearly saw the economic possibilities there and the advantage on the economic side, and that was paired with, you know, obviously, the really substantial environmental impact. So, you know, that’s an example for us of one that has, that kind of meets both requirements really clearly, and the fact that, you know, a lot of carbon technologies have been tied to different regulations that make them economically viable, and something like 45Q, which was in the recent tax overhaul, that’s like a cherry on top, but they’re not dependent on that. So again, that goes back to our idea of a resilient revenue model, they really can’t be dependent on some sort of like tax incentive or regulatory push; it has to be a pull from from the markets themselves.

Eric Hornung 25:39
How important is the technology versus the team or who you’re investing in?

Rose Maizner 25:45
It’s similar to any other sector and venture capital. And there’s that kind of like, tired but, but honestly still very appropriate adage that you can have mediocre technology with a phenomenal team, and that will win every time over a phenomenal technology with a mediocre team. And that’s especially true, I think, in cleantech, because it can be a difficult, a really difficult space to, A, get additional investment and, B, commercialized technologies. And so, it’s really crucial to have a team that kind of understands this space and really understands the industry as well, and the kind of dynamics of the industry.

Jay Clouse 26:21
Do you ever look at your peers in venture who are investing in technologies that may have a clearer and shorter route to market and feel jealous that you can’t invest in companies like that?

Rose Maizner 26:34
There are definitely times when, oh God, why, yeah, why aren’t we just investing in some app that is going to, you know, give us a return in 18 months? But at the same time, I get so excited about the types of technology that we’re working with that, you know, those feelings are fleeting and few and far between it. I really believe in what we’re doing, and that makes the sometimes more challenging landscape completely worthwhile.

Eric Hornung 26:58
How often are the companies that you’re talking to and investing in pulling out technology from universities and university programs, licensing it, and then using, like, non dilutive funding? For a little bit of background, on Upside, we have had, what, like five or six companies, Jay?

Jay Clouse 27:15
That are university spinouts?

Eric Hornung 27:17
That are university spinouts that are doing some sort of hard science that probably could fit this cleantech but through a venture lens. I’m just curious, when you look at companies, how often are they going through that more academic path? And how often are they maybe going through, like, more of a commercial route to start?

Rose Maizner 27:33
I think there’s a lot of diversity in the space in terms of how companies get their start. So we certainly see companies that are coming out of universities, we have relationships with universities that do a great job of incubating and fostering that type of technology that would be considered cleantech. Increasingly, and something that I get really excited about is that we have seen this really kind of significant uptick in the number of supportive programs that help to validate and act as either incubators or accelerators for cleantech companies. And so, it’s interesting, I was looking at some of the data around the types of companies that people were investing in back when, as we talked about, the cleantech boom and bust. And in I think it was 2006, they were only a handful of, you know, like, five max with this, what the research defines as ecosystem hubs that would be any kind of accelerator or incubator or national lab or university programs specifically designed to help to support early stage cleantech companies. Now they’re 49. And it’s not just kind of, we’re a cleantech, broadly defined accelerator; they’re accelerators that focus very specifically on kind of sub-sectors within cleantech and do a phenomenal job of really validating those technologies. And so the pool of early stage companies is, is much more advanced than it was when, you know, people were first starting to invest in this space, which I think is great. And that’s going to save investors a lot of heartache because now we’re getting a higher quality pipeline of deals, which has been awesome. So I know that’s not really answering your question about, you know, non dilutive, you know, and kind of university spinouts, but, you know, it’s about within the broader context of what’s happening is something that we’re really excited about.

Eric Hornung 29:15
What do you wish was better in the cleantech and renewable-tech space today?

Rose Maizner 29:19
Oh, that is a good question. I do wish it was, there was a more supportive LP base. I mean, I think we’re getting there, and we’re starting to see more and more folks who are open to cleantech. But, you know, we go to these fundraising events where they’re all these, you know, family offices or institutional LPs. When we kind of get matched, they’re really only a slice of them that are truly interested in cleantech or open to it. Other people we’ll meet with, and they’ll say, like, oh, that’s, that’s really interesting, clearly, it’s important, but we’re just, that’s not a sector that we’re really open to or we’re interested in. And I think there’s still a lot of kind of backlash from cleantech 1.0. And then there’s still a lot of misinformation that’s flying around about cleantech and what it really is and what the opportunities look like. I think people still think that it’s, it’s really expensive, and it takes a really, really long time. And that’s not always the case. Cyclotron Road did an interesting study recently, and I don’t want to butcher their numbers, and I’m trying to remember them off the top of my head, but basically, they found that the average time to exit for hard tech companies in this space is closer to five years, I think, so it’s actually a lot quicker than I think a lot of people have assumed for a long time. People have assumptions that it’s going to be 10, 12, 15 years. But looking at the data, it actually, it is more appropriate for an end-fits-well-within kind of a venture model. So I do wish that there was a little bit more of an understanding on the LP side about the opportunities that exist and what this landscape really does look like, not just in terms of the impact, but also when it comes to the potential for really exciting returns.

Jay Clouse 30:46
I want to take a little bit of a right turn here and talk about the work that you do with Womenpreneurs. You started this interview saying, you know, I am not, I’m your least likely venture capitalist, and you found yourself there. And now you probably look around at your peers, and you see a lot of guys that look like Eric and I more than women like you. So talk to us about the work you do with Womenpreneurs, how it started, why it started?

Rose Maizner 31:08
Yeah, absolutely. And I will say that one of the reasons I always tell what is, you know, actually an embarrassing story, I probably shouldn’t say in public that I, like, had a Google venture capital an my first day at work, that’s probably something I should never be telling people. One of the reasons I like to talk about it is I want to be an example of the fact that you don’t have to have a certain pedigree and background to get into the space. As, you know, as a man, women, I think that there’s an idea about who a venture capitalist is and should, you know, and who the opportunity is given to. And that’s what’s created, in some some degree, what is a really homogenous group of venture capitalists. And I think we need more diversity in the space in terms of gender and ethnicity and socio-economic background, geography. And so, the more that people understand that you, that there are avenues to accessing this space that are not through some of you specific academic institutions, or, you know, investment banking, or some of them are traditional routes. So, you know, that’s, that’s one of the reasons that I do always talk about that. And specifically, when it comes to women, you know, I would love to see more women who are on the investor side of the table, and that’s something that we’re, we’re actually working on at Womenpreneurs. But the reason…We started it very accidentally. You know, coming from the nonprofit space to venture capital, one of the first things that I noticed is that I was no longer in rooms full of women. In fact, I was often the only women in the room. The other thing that started to happen around the time that I made the jump is that suddenly, it seems like every time there’s a woman who is starting a company, she’d end up in my office, you know, having been referred there by some really well intentioned guy who was like, I don’t understand this, I, you’re a woman, you should go talk to the other woman who is on the investor side. And this would happen like from day one, when I had no idea what I was doing, let alone what advice to give to a woman, especially in a completely different industry. I mean, I had women who were starting quilting companies and travel companies who would end up, like I said, kind of sitting across from me in my office. But it was wonderful. And it was an interesting and really eye opening way to understand some of the other ways in which women are under-resourced, that it’s not just about access to capital, it’s about mentorship, it’s about networks, and feeling like they have a community of support around them. And so, it was about that time that my co-founder and I –she was working for a local accelerator — we decided to have an event where we would just take some of the women who’d been coming to us, who were starting companies and wanted access to resources and support, and put them in the same room with some of the women we knew who had already gone down this path of entrepreneurship successfully or otherwise, but at least had lived that experience and could maybe provide some mentorship and support. And so, we kind of had developed this what we called, like, group mentorship model, where we just had women show up, we put them in small groups with some of these mentor figures, and we thought that maybe, you know, like 20 or 30, people were going to show up. And 100 women came, which totally blew us away. And so then we thought, okay, maybe we’ll have, like, one more event. And that’s why, I mean, the name Womenpreneurs is not, like, this really thought-out name of what we wanted this entity to be, it was because that was the name of our first event. And then we just had another event that was Womenpreneurs 2. And then that one, again, another hundred women showed up. And after just having these one-off events for about a year and a half, like, okay, there’s clearly something here. What do we want to do with this? And what can we do, you know, to really move the needle for women in Utah? And so, we have gotten ourselves organized a bit actually identified what it is that we think will create really positive change. And essentially, our theory of change is that to build strong women-led businesses, we need more women who are decision makers at potential strategic partners and customers, and also women who are decision makers at investment firms or who are actually deploying capital. And so, we now have programming that we’ve developed for women in handball in those three categories. So women who are starting businesses, women who want to access leadership opportunities in existing companies and corporations, and then women who could be investors. And so, it’s been really exciting to see, you know, how our community has coalesced around, around us and this vision and fully bought into it. So we have a community now have about 900 women in Utah who are active online, and come to our events, participate in our workshops, which has been really, really phenomenal. So we’re still figuring out how we structure, you know, all of this programming, how it all, you know, makes sense and fits together. But I think we’ve made a lot of phenomenal progress, and it’s been awesome to see, you know, the the community’s response to what it is that we’ve decided to become.

Eric Hornung 35:44
I’m curious on this investor side, a lot of the ways that people come on and get into VC is maybe they exit a company, and then they become an angel investor. And maybe this is a perpetual cycle, so this could be a misinformed question. But do you see, like, an appetite from the women who are in your network to, like, want to get into angel investing as kind of an intro into potentially getting into VC, or getting into startups or anything like that?

Rose Maizner 36:10
We are starting to see that. And frankly, you know, we’ve had to, we’ve had to build that appetite to some degree. There’s a concept that we came up with that we call the ascendant economy, and it’s this idea that, you know, again, in order to not just have really well supported, female-led companies, but also have companies that are built with the kind of inclusive culture and values and business models baked in from the beginning and not kind of reverse engineered into these behemoth companies that are now, after, like, fighting the tides have change for generations, are like, oh, we’re going to have inclusion policies. So if we want to kind of bake that in from the beginning, we do need to have a more diverse set of people sitting on the other side of the table as investors and as people who support the really early stages of business development. And so, once we kind of identified this concept of the ascendant economy, which is essentially this idea that we create this, this new economic structure that will exist alongside how people have been traditionally going about funding companies, and who’s traditionally been deploying capital, and helping to advise and build those companies, the data shows that those, these companies will be really successful, and you know, that eventually, the kind of existing economy will begin to resemble what we call the ascendant economy more and more. And so, you know, but to do that, we have to, we really have to be intentional about building out that base of investors, and the truth is that, especially in Utah, there’s not this, like, community of women who are chomping at the bit to become investors because they’ve never thought about being investors before, and no one’s ever told them that they could and shown them kind of the rationale for why. And so, that’s part of our processes, educating women about, you know, you, you can actually have a really meaningful impact on these women-led businesses, because people are, women, especially are really strong and passionate champions at women led businesses. And that’s what was interesting about our events, too, is about 40% of our attendees were not women who were building businesses, they were women who wanted to support women-led businesses. And so we’ve been leveraging that passion and helping people understand that there are a number of ways you can support women led businesses, one of which — and again, this is kind of our theory — is that it will become kind of this virtuous cycle of women investing in women. So if women are successful in, you know, as in make it, you know, to like the C suite in a large corporation, they’re going to have the capacity to invest in women. So we need to start kind of inculcating this idea now of becoming a financial champion of women, not just a kind of like on-the-sidelines cheerleader, advocate. So, a lot of it has been around education, just that this is an option, and here’s how you do it, should you so decide. But what we’ve seen is that, you know, women are also really interested in impact investing as investors. And so there’s some and often, you know, the companies that a lot of women are starting have an impact component. So it’s a really nice entree into the world of angel investing or even venture capital, starting with impact side of things, because a lot of women are really phenomenal philanthropists, and they’re really, really good and really savvy at making donations. And so, it’s just a little bit of a tweak, then, to take that next step to impact investing. And so that’s kind of how we, we feel as when, you know, the best ways to kind of bring women into the investment space,

Eric Hornung 39:12
Just putting on impact investing presentations at misaligned keynotes and hoping that someone’s there that really likes it.

Rose Maizner 39:18
Exactly. Clearly that is a is a formula for success.

Eric Hornung 39:23
So this is a little bit of a selfish question because Jay and I are not women. We are your prototypical, like, late 20s, white, co-hosts of a podcast. Like we’re everything people make memes about. How do we do better in terms of women in VC?

Rose Maizner 39:40
Oh, that’s such a great question, and I’m really glad you asked that. So there are, there are a number of ways that men can be champions of women-led companies as well. And, in fact, you know, if you, if you think about right now, who has kind of the biggest pulpit from which to affect change, it is men just like you, white men. And so the more we can get men to be talking about this, to call out the inequalities and inequities when you see them, I think the more quickly we’ll make change. So, and we certainly don’t want this to be like a, you know, it’s just us over here in our corner fighting against you; I think it’s really, you know, especially if you look at the data around companies that are diverse enough to have true equality, actually, they’re better companies: the returns are better, their stock prices are higher. And so, it’s to everyone’s benefit to be clamoring for this type of equality. So as far as how you can do that, a couple tips that I often talk about it at our events, one of which is amplification: if there’s a woman who’s doing something really interesting and really cool, making sure that you’re amplifying her company, her mission, and that goes, you know, for both like social media but also in a meeting. You know, there’s still all this data around the fact that women get talked over more, they don’t, you know, people tend to kind of ignore what they say, and then someone else will say it a few minutes later and kind of claim it as their own idea. And so the concept of amplification actually came out of the Obama administration. A group of women kind of got together and had some men who were kind of allies of theirs say, like, listen, the next time I get talked over in a meeting, will you call it out? And so, the men started saying like, actually, Bob, Susan said that two minutes ago, why don’t we give the time back to her so she can more fully explain what she was talking about. And so, I think amplification can be appropriate in that setting, but also in a much broader way to about just highlighting the interesting things that women-led companies are doing when talking specifically about the startup space. So that’s, that’s a big one. And then another one is mentorship. And there’s been so much backlasgh lately around, unfortunately, around this idea that, like, men don’t want to be in the same room as women, as a single woman anymore, which is so unfortunate, because there’s all this data that supports the fact that companies that get access to mentors have a far, far bigger chance at being successful. And so, if we’re denying women mentorship because, you know, men are afraid of some sort of, you know, fallout or backlash, I just think that is, it is so unfortunate and taking us, we’re really moving backwards in so many ways when something like that happens. So I would say, you know, don’t shy away from mentorship. I think men know how to behave appropriately, and that will save them from any sort of unpleasant fallout. So just don’t be a jerk, and you’ll be fine. But really, you know, seek out opportunities to mentor women because that can be really meaningful. And unfortunately, we’re seeing a decline in mentorship, which is, as I said, a really disappointing product of some of the other ” Me Too” and some of the other events that have happened recently.

Jay Clouse 42:31
It’s bizarre to me sometimes how much Eric and I are on the same wavelength in terms of questions. I was trying to ask what Eric asked, and I couldn’t think of how to phrase it. So going off of your response there of amplification, what is the line of amplification versus tokenization?

Rose Maizner 42:51
Oh, yeah, I think a lot of it has to do with talking to the, you know, the women that you want to amplify and saying like, how can I help to, you know, to amplify you, I don’t want to put you in a position where you, like…Putting you on a panel is, like, the token woman. And I, I’ve certainly had that experience; I’m the token woman a lot. I’ve been, I remember when I was, when I was applying for grad school, I googled myself, you know, to see what would come up if the reviewers googled me. And I was listed as a mentor for a local accelerator that I’d never once been a mentor for, and I was the only woman on that page, and it’s like, they just googled women in BC, in Utah, my name popped up, and they stuck me on their mentor page, which was enfuriating. And so, that’s definitely something that happens a lot. But I look at that example, and like, if they had come to me and said, would you like to be a mentor? I mean, that would have been completely different. And I think a lot of it is, is just having that conversation. And then also, it is pretty obvious what…if the motivation, I think is good, then the action that follows it will often be appropriate, if that makes sense. So, you know, it sounds like you guys have the right motivation there. I think when people have when their motivation is to check a box, that’s pretty obvious.

Jay Clouse 43:58
This has been awesome, Rose, we went a little bit over, so thanks for hanging with us. If people want to learn more about you or the work that you do after the show, where should they go?

Rose Maizner 44:05
Three places, which will make it extra confusing. If they’re interested in learning more about RenewableTech, if they’re interested in learning more about Womenpreneurs,, and I know Womenpreneurs, it’s terrible to spell, but it’s like entrepreneur but with women. And then, if you want to learn more about me specifically, find me on LinkedIn, and I’m happy to connect. And yeah, and send me a message and look forward to meeting some new interesting folks from this great opportunity.

Eric Hornung 44:38
Alright, Jay, we just spoke with Rose from RenewableTech Ventures. I feel like everyone who gets into VC says that they are, like, the least likely VC candidate.

Jay Clouse 44:48
It’s true. And everyone trying to get into VC is saying, why can’t I get into VC?

Eric Hornung 44:52
Just knocking at the door as hard as possible, saying look at me.

Jay Clouse 44:56
Yeah, similar background to Monique Villa, though, and how she got here.

Eric Hornung 44:59

Jay Clouse 45:00
Starting with nonprofits, kind of finding her way into venture capital because she came across someone who was doing impact investing. Also interesting to hear the story of, I went to a panel, don’t know how I got to the panel, don’t know why I went to this certain panel, but it had such an impact on me — pun intended –that I wanted to get into impact investing, and there was one fund here in Salt Lake City that was doing that. She sat down with the founder Todd Stevens, convinced him to bring her on, which is a huge feat in its own right, whether or not you think you’re the least likely person to get into VC, meeting with the founding partner of a fund, a new fund, and convincing them that you’re the right person to bring on as an early, early, one of few employees, and then working your way up to partner, seems like Rose is doing pretty well for herself.

Eric Hornung 45:47
Yeah, seems like RenewableTech Ventures is doing pretty well for itself as well, kind of making a name for itself in Salt Lake City in a state that is historically not the most clean or green friendly. But finally companies nonetheless in Utah to invest in.

Jay Clouse 46:02
Less than I’m starting to learn, if you’re trying to get into VC, dear listener, lean into your willingness and, hopefully, ability to fundraise. Sounds like that is a skill that people running early stage funds are looking for, someone that is interested and able to go out and ask people for money. Rose says that’s something that she’s never been or never had a problem doing. And I think that played a lot to her advantage in gaining this role.

Eric Hornung 46:26
What do you think about this model of impact investing with two lenses? You have the venture lens and the impact lens.

Jay Clouse 46:35
Impact investing seems very, very difficult for, for the reason of, there’s nobody in the world who would say, I don’t also want to do good while I’m making a lot of money. And so, not everybody is doing, quote, impact investments with their investments. It makes me think that it’s hard to find a good number of genuinely high return companies that are also doing really, really well for, you know, the public good. Not say they’re not out there, it’s just, it’s clear that they’re fewer and farther between, which makes investing in that pool inherently more difficult because there’s fewer of them to find and to invest in.

Eric Hornung 47:16
I wonder how you manage deal flow, then. Like, do you just know all of your potential deal flow, if it’s so small around the country?

Jay Clouse 47:22
I doubt it, because — here’s the other thing that I think is probably true in difficult — they’re probably a lot of teams and founders who are doing great work, who may be investable companies that are not coming from that world and don’t even know how to get seen or found.

Eric Hornung 47:41
Yeah, I think a lot of it is probably on the company side. Are they branding themselves as impact investments? And why would you do that when there’s less capital being deployed into impact funds than there is in a general venture capital fund?

Jay Clouse 47:53
And if Todd Stevens, when he was starting this, if Rose said, you’re impact investing, and he didn’t know what impact investing was, and he was doing investing, what are the chances that a team, who got into something because they wanted to do good, is familiar with investing and then familiar with the term impact investing? It just seems like a difficult and inefficient, you know, you can think of it as a marketplace of companies wanting to be funded and funders trying to fund companies in this space. Seems like an inefficient marketplace that probably is still pretty nascent in getting people on both sides and working together.

Eric Hornung 48:23
Seems like someone could create the circle up of impact startups and own all the data in this space.

Jay Clouse 48:30
Maybe that could be you, dear listener. If you have thoughts on this episode, you can tweet at us @upsidefm, or if you have any longer form thoughts, you can email us We’d love to talk to more companies in this space, companies that have been invested in by impact investors, to flush out this thesis a little bit more. What do you think, Eric?

Eric Hornung 48:49
I love that. We have Bob from up in Vermont. And now we have Rose from out in Salt Lake. We haven’t really talked to any companies with the intent of talking about them as impact investments.

Jay Clouse 49:01
And we’re still just scratching the surface of moving west across our great nation here. So if you know any companies, west of the Mississippi, west of Texas?

Eric Hornung 49:09
We’ll go west of the Mississippi,

Jay Clouse 49:10
West of the Mississippi who are impact companies, we’d love to talk with them. You can email us at or again tweet at us @upsidefm. We’ll talk to you next week.

Interview begins: 5:30
Debrief begins: 44:38

Rose Maizner is a partner at RenewableTech Ventures and a co-founder of Womenpreneurs.

RenewableTech Ventures is a Salt Lake City based venture capital fund focused in cleantech. An impact investment fund, Renewable Tech Ventures has helped a number of green energy startups find stamina in the venture market. Rose discusses her journey from nonprofiteer to becoming a partner in a venture capital fund and Renewable Tech Ventures’s current outlook on funding.

Rose is also a co-founder of Womenprenuers, an all-women network focused on empowering and educating women in entrepreneurship and venture capital. She talks about the need for these communities and how she came to lead one.

We discuss:

  • Ad: Improved methods to sourcing talent and finding new possible colleagues (4:20)
  • Rose’s background in nonprofits and coming to venture capital (5:40)
  • RTV’s work in Utah (13:19)
  • RTV’s funding (17:39)
  • Boom and bust of cleantech investment in the 2000s (19:55)
  • Current companies with RTV (22:55)
  • The start of Womenpreneurs and it’s model (30:45)
  • How men can help women in venture capital (39:22)

RenewableTech Ventures was founded 2010 and based in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Learn more about RenewableTech Ventures:
Learn more about Womenpreneurs:
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