- I’m grateful to say that I’ve had quite a few successes over my 25-plus year career. I’m very proud to have completed my Ph.D. at Stanford and my contributions to the academic and research community there.
- I’m an inventor on a diverse set of patents for some amazing and impactful products, ranging from portable fuel cells to medical devices to office furniture.
- I’ve also worked on cleantech products which have achieved billions of dollars in revenue and have had a massive impact on important industries.
- I’m proud to have been able to spot some very important cleantech companies early, such as Sunrun and OPower while at Accel.
- And, I am confident my biggest professional highlights are yet to come – as I believe at Energy Transition Ventures, we have already backed some of the most important cleantech companies for the next decade.
What is your field of expertise?
My education and training are in Mechanical Engineering, and I was a practicing engineer for the first half of my career, developing technologies and products across multiple industries, including oil and gas, sensors, IoT, consumer products, furniture, industrial products, and medical devices. In the second half of my career, I’ve focused exclusively on the energy industry, and more specifically cleantech and the energy transition, serving in investing, product management, and executive roles.
Describe your journey to where you are today.
I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a BS in Mechanical Engineering. My first job out of college was in the oil and gas industry, as the only real opportunities for an ME out of The University of Texas, in the midst of a recession, were either in the oil and gas or defense industries. Unhappy there, I moved to California to pursue a Ph.D. in Engineering at Stanford. That led to a fantastic job at IDEO, an incredible product design and engineering company that served the consumer, industrial, and medical product industries.
I realized I wanted to work in cleantech when I was first exposed to the solar industry at IDEO, working on a project for First Solar. We were tasked to come up with a business strategy and product for the company to enter the residential solar market in 2007. I literally fell in love at first sight with solar energy – the idea that you could create electricity from sunlight with a simple glass panel seemed magical to me. That led to me launching the energy practice at IDEO and the opportunity to work on amazing products and technologies for companies like Bloom Energy, Polyfuel, Ford, and the Department of Energy. At that point, I was hooked – I was cleantech for life.
After a decade at IDEO, I joined the Silicon Valley Venture Capital firm Accel Partners and led their cleantech investments during the first major wave of cleantech venture capital investing. At Accel, I was able to meet hundreds of companies developing the next generation of cleantech solutions, and we invested in some incredible companies during that period, including Sunrun – now the leading US residential solar provider, and Opower – the first cleantech software unicorn. I went on to join SunEdison to launch their first residential solar business and then moved back to Texas to join SolarBridge (later acquired by SunPower), helping develop and market the only real microinverter competitor to Enphase. I remain cleantech for life.
What does your company do, for whom, and how does it fit into the bigger picture of solving global issues with clean tech?
We established Energy Transition Ventures in 2021 to fund and support startups that are driving or benefiting from the energy transition, to provide cleaner and more sustainable sources and uses of energy. We are the first early-stage venture capital firm in Texas, the traditional energy capital of the word, dedicated to the energy transition.
We seek out hardware, software, and services companies that are solving large, substantial problems in the energy transition. In our first year, we invested in companies such as Resilient Power for EV charging infrastructure and Dronebase for aerial data management for solar and wind farms.
We believe that despite the large amount of capital that has recently flowed into the climate and ESG space, there is still a gap in early-stage funding for new entrepreneurs, companies, and ideas. Our goal at Energy Transition Ventures is to fill that gap and back the category-defining energy transition companies of the next decade.
What do you think is the most important thing we can be doing in terms of clean tech solutions?
I am extremely bullish on the current state of cleantech solutions. I think the technologies we have today (solar, wind, energy storage, electric vehicles, green hydrogen) are poised to dominate the next several decades in the energy and transportation sectors – the most impactful sectors for the climate. And, I think the technologies under development – in university and government labs and in startups, will take us much further.
If I could get governments and industry to focus on one thing, I believe the most important thing we can do for cleantech solutions in the developed and developing world is to invest in our energy infrastructure – build more flexible and distributed grids. And invest in more transmission. I am a big believer in “electrifying everything” – that electricity is the ultimate flex-fuel – enabling us to build a resilient, clean, and affordable grid, which will form the foundation to deploy all the new and existing technologies we need.
What do you wish you could tell the younger you — what would’ve been incredibly helpful to you ten years ago?
I would have to go back further than 10 years, probably 20 or 30 years, to chat with my younger self! But, either way, I would probably tell myself not to do anything different with my career. I think I found cleantech (or cleantech found me) at just the right time – not too early or too late to have an impact. And I would tell myself to keep my chin up even when things seem difficult or hopeless – that everybody is underestimating how fast fundamental cleantech technologies like solar, wind, and batteries are going to decrease in cost and to continue to support and grow these core technologies. I think my younger self would be amazed to know what we’ve accomplished in cleantech in the last decade. Oh – one other thing I would tell my younger self – don’t pass on that Tesla investment that seemed ridiculous at the time!
LinkedIn: Craig Lawrence