Swiss Fund Cleantech Invest Expects First Exits in 2010

Jan 14 2010 | 1:27pm ET

This will be "the year of the first exits" for Cleantech Invest AG, says Juergen Habichler, founder and managing partner of the Swiss venture capital fund that focuses on cleantech investments in the German-speaking world.  
Juergen HabichlerJuergen Habichler"Having started the first investments in 2008, hopefully, after two, two-and-a-half years, we will be able to do the first exits," Habichler told FINalternatives in an interview this week. "That's something that we're very concentrated on."

First on the block, he says, will be SiC Processing, a company that produces cutting fluids used in the production of wafers for the photovoltaic (PV) and semiconductor industries. In 2007, the company raised EUR 53 million (then US$68 million) from zouk ventures, a European cleantech investor, Merrill Lynch Corporate Principal Investments Group, CC Private Equity Partners, Masdar Clean Tech Fund and Foursome Investments, together with existing investors and the Heckmann family in one of the biggest cleantech deals in Europe that year.

Habichler says the exit should be quite "spectacular." It follows the fund's first partial-exit, which saw it list Pure Klimaschutz AG shares worth CHF 1.3 million ($1.3 million) on the Berne Stock Exchange (Ticker Berne: PKS) in Q4 2009. Pure Klimaschutz generates and trades CO2 certificates.

Habichler says the Cleantech Invest AG fund was launched to take advantage a "huge opportunity" in the German-speaking world (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). The region, he says, is home to a large number of cleantech companies that have "built up significant businesses over the last five to 15 years." On the other hand, the region suffers from a lack of private equity/venture capital investment.

"So there is a great opportunity to get access to good entry valuations in grown-up businesses," he told FINaltneratives.

Asked why his part of the planet seemed so advanced in terms of cleantech, Habichler attributed it to a history of government policy and regulatory decisions.

"Forty years ago the first regulations came into place around recycling and energy efficiency," he says. "About 10 years ago, in 2000 we had very strong feed-in tariff legislation come into place which was renewed 2004. In 2008 we got new legislation around energy efficiency and thermal improvement and those kind of things, so there are quite a few regulations in place.  A lot of subsidies over the last 10 years have been put into this sector of the German-speaking region."

So great is the opportunity, the firm – which consists of two managing partners, two investment managers, and two analysts – will begin fundraising for a second cleantech fund in the first quarter of 2010.  The final close should be EUR 100 million ($145 million) and Habichler says it will differ slightly from the first fund in that up to 30% of the investment may be outside the German-speaking region.

In choosing its investments, the fund takes a top-down approach, he says, having identified several cleantech sectors of interest – including energy efficiency, recycling, carbon emissions, solar PV, embedded or horizontal products, new materials.

And what opportunities is he particularly excited about?

Energy efficiency. "It's a very big area for us," he says.

It's also a very big area simply by definition: as defined by Cleantech Invest AG, it includes everything from smart grid technology, to renewable energy storage, to green IT.

"But apart from that we're opportunistic," says Habichler, "so any opportunity we look at will be evaluated on its own…any opportunity that relates to environmental improvement, renewable energy, things like waste-water management, we look at that."

By Mary Campbell

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