As PG&E faces negative buzz for its practices, Lisa Lambert, the head of National Grid Partners (NGP), says that the company’s troubles has led to an uptick in entrepreneurship in the energy sector.
As a result, the corporate venture arm of international electricity and gas company National Grid, just announced that it is making four investments, of undisclosed size, into startups.
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Generally, “people just wanted their lights to turn on, they didn’t care how they turned on,” she said on a phone call. However she says the conversations within California inspired NGP to open up a formal office in San Francisco, in addition to its previous Los Gatos office.
Lambert tells me they’re able to cut growth-stage checks anywhere between $5 million to $30 million. The $250 million fund also makes seed-stage and incubator investments.
A majority of startups that are funded by National Grid Partners also end up playing a role for the fund’s corporate sponsor, Lambert said. For example, she says Copperleaf’s decisions-analytics platform will help National Grid better optimize its decision making and internal infrastructure. Carbon Lighthouse, which works on building management and energy efficiency, will help National Grid offer new service “and produce new revenue models.”
In return, she says the fund helps startups grow, a difficulty in the energy sector.
The struggles of energy startups scaling is partly due to long sales cycles and the slow moving pace of the energy industry as a whole, she said. startups are in a challenging spot. Startups founders in agriculture also encounter similar growth challenges.
“You cannot take the Silicon Valley ethos of ‘do things fast, fail fast, and break things’ and apply it to food and agriculture,” Rex Animal Health’s founder Amado Guloy said to me back then.
Lambert’s method appears to hum with the slow and steady approach: she was brought on by National Grid in January 2018, and took her time building the team up until November. Now, however, she says she’s ready to gear up: in the blossoming of unicorns within all industries, National Grid doesn’t want to be last in working with energy companies of the future.
Illustration: Li-Anne Dias