The connection between green-energy related business start-ups and the woodworking industry may seem far-fetched. But there are strong connections. Venture-capital funded start-ups in any business with aspirations to serving the emerging green economy must themselves be very green: that can mean using responsibly-harvested wood sources and environmentally safe finishes. Between 2007 and 2009, $821 million was invested into late-stage clean-energy start-ups, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

Another connection with wood products is found in the offices of David Gelbaum. The well-heeled investor and philanthropist has been
redirecting hundreds of millions of his wealth and other investments into sustainable enterprises
through Quercus Trust and 21Ventures. Gelbaum piqued my
interest when he told the New York Times that he developed an admiration for the Sierra Club
even as it branded a sawmill for which he once worked as an environmental

A look at 21Ventures finds other connections with the woodworking
industries: one investment in 21Ventures' portfolio is FreeGreen. Founded in 2008, FreeGreen Inc. says it distributes over 36,000 house plans per year, encouraging building green homes by making house plans available at no charge. The FreeGreen team designs and constructs off-grid homes, solar-powered green houses, and creates residential energy models for Global 500 companies.

Another portfolio company is GreeRay, which makes plug-and-play solar panel "appliances" that it hopes will someday be sold through home improvement retailers like Home Depot. Both these start-ups fit Quercus' business model of encouraging free-standing nodes that can generate power for the electric grid--an approach called "distributed generation." Of interest to the woodworking industry is that these two examples of Quercus efforts employ building and construction as the enabling methodology.

Gelbaum prefers pristine natural preserves not be allocated to solar power farms. Gelbaum donated 1,200 square miles of open land to the Federal government. "As distributed solar becomes lower-priced," Gelbaum told the New York Times, "there are plenty of roofs to put solar thermal power on."

21Ventures’ core strategy is to be the first investor in companies with proprietary, disruptive technologies. The firm focuses on seed and early-stage venture investing, often times at the University level. 21Ventures employs a hands-on approach and supports our portfolio companies’ growth until it can bring on later-stage institutional investors.

21Ventures’ investment size ranges from as little as $100,000 to as much as $20 million. Typically, the firm invests $3 to $5 million initially and anticipates investing up to $20 million over the lifespan of a company. 21Ventures invests for the long term and seeks entrepreneurs with a similar mindset.

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