As the founder of the Bay Area networking group, Women In Cleantech & Sustainability, I am keenly interested in learning about who the media thinks as being the most influential women in the field. However, it feels like every top ten list for women in Cleantech always lists the same lovely ladies. This is not to say that the women are not contributing massively to the effort of clean technology, they are. And there are so many more women in the field!
Clean technology is ever-changing, with new innovators, particularly among women, making their mark in a traditionally male-dominated field. In this occasional series, we shine the spotlight on the most savvy and accomplished women pioneers in cleantech and sustainability. Some are building their own start-ups, others are climbing the ranks of high-profile companies, and still others are investors. Whether they are on the front lines or behind the scenes, they inspire us to keep striving forward, to break the ever existent glass ceiling, and change how the world lives.
As always we are open to your suggestions of who you feel are the female game-changers. Who do you think should be on the list?
*Special thanks to Shawn Lesser of Watershed Capital for his support and mentorship for this series.
1. Virginia Klausmeier, CEO, Sylvatex
Quite possibly the youngest CEO in the biofuel/Green chemistry industry, Virginia Klausmeier has spent the past five years developing the Sylvatex fuel technology with her late father, Dr. William Klausmeier. Sylvatex is currently commercializing a proprietary renewable fuel for the US diesel and biodiesel markets. The company has won numerous awards at industry conferences and venture funding competitions, including Silicon Valley LAUNCH and PortTechLA, as well as funding and support through San Francisco’s Greenstart accelerator program. Virginia earned her B.S in Chemistry and Physiology and M.S. in Biomechanics at the University of Oregon and has is also active in San Francisco’s BioDiesel Task force and Biodiesel Coop.
2. Kef Kasdin, CEO, Proterro BioFuels
Kef Kasdin is CEO of Proterro, a venture-backed start-up located in Princeton, New Jersey. It develops non-plant-based, noncellulosic fermentation-ready sugar feedstock, which enables the economical and scalable production of biofuels and chemicals. The company, which is transitioning from discovery to the engineering phase, has functioning prototype sucrose-producing organisms and a working model bioreactor system. Proterro’s Protose sugar is a sustainable, inexpensive, geoflexible, feedstock that can be used to produce a variety of commercial scale fuels and chemicals through standard industrial fermentation methods. Before Proterro, Kef spent nine years at 3Com Corp, including managing $1B division. She also spent 10 years as venture capitalist, and is general partner/cofounder of Battelle Ventures and affiliate Innovation Valley Partners, with company-creation, lab-spinout, and energy-market expertise.
3. Lissa Morgenthaler-Jones, CEO and Co-Founder, LiveFuels
Lissa Morgenthalter-Jones leads strategic planning and corporate development for the LiveFuels, a company with the goal of developing the most efficient and scalable algae-based biofuel process. Since 1990, she has also specialized in biotechnology investing since 1990. After learning about turning algae and animal waste into fuel, she started her own clean energy venture capital fund in 2004. She raised $10 million from the Quercus Trust and individual investors in May 2007. To date, her company has established pilot operations across the U.S., generated extensive intellectual property, and is well on its way to producing an economically feasible and sustainable algal fuel.
4. K’ Lynne Johnson, CEO, Elevance Renewable Sciences
K’Lynne is leading Illinois based Elevance, with her 19 years of experience in the oil and petrochemicals industry (Amoco, BP and Innovene). The company is striving to be the first to successfully bridge the renewables and chemicals industries. With its Nobel-prize winning technology the company transforms natural plant-based oils, like soybean, rapeseed (canola), palm, corn, or algae, into specialty high-performance, cost-effective commercial products, such as advanced biofuels, deterents and cleaners, personal care products, and others.
5. Jennifer Case, co-founder and CEO, New Leaf Biofuel
In 2010, co-founder Jennifer Case took the helm at New Leaf Biofuel as CEO. She has helped grow the company to 24 employees and increase its customer base, including US Navy, the City of Chula Vista, Allied Waste, and dozens of other commercial and municipal fleets in Southern California. Jennifer Case obtained a BA in Political Science from UC San Diego, and a law degree from Pepperdine University. In her legal practice, Jennifer represented individuals, business and public entity clients in such areas as general business litigation, real estate, construction and technology. Prior to attending law school, Ms. Case was an administrator of a start-up fiber optics company in the Silicon Valley.
6. Pamela R. Contag, Ph.D, microbiologist, Founder of Xenogen Corp and Cobalt Biofuels
Cobalt Technologies, located in Mountain View, CA, is leading the transportation industry for cleaner, more efficient renewable fuels. It is a venture-backed company that produces biobutanol from renewable feedstock. Xenogen Corp, located in Alameda, CA, was founded in 1998, and is a leader in the field of biophotonic imaging. Pamela R. Contag, Ph.D., is a microbiologist who has been called a “serial entrepreneur,” having founded two biotech and two biofuel startups. She is the founder of Xenogen Corp. and Cobalt Biofuels, Inc. She is also the founder and CEO of Cygnet Biofuels and ConcentRX, Inc., a biotechnology company developing a unique cancer therapy. She founded Xenogen Corporation with two colleagues while at Stanford University, where they invented in vivo biophotonic imaging. Pamela has filed a patent on a process she developed that utilizes algae to produce polysaccharides that can be easily converted to alcohol fuels or to biolipids, and then to biodiesel. She was also named one of the “Top 25 Women in Small Business” by Fortune Magazine.
7. Cynthia (CJ) Warner, President, of Sapphire Energy
Cynthia (C.J.) Warner joined Sapphire Energy in February 2009 as President. She brings more than 27 years of experience in the energy, refining and transportation industries. At Sapphire Energy, Ms. Warner is tasked with driving the company’s initiative to transition technology trials and research into commercial-scale crude oil operations. Using only sunlight, CO2 and non-potable water, Sapphire Energy is one of the world’s largest leaders in algae-based crude oil. A chemical engineer by training and one of the very few senior women in the oil and gas industry, CJ served as an executive with energy industry giants British Petroleum, Amoco Oil Company and UOP. CJ is currently a member of the National Petroleum Council. She is a featured leader in the 2008 book ‘Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence′ (Harvard Business School Press). CJ has a BS degree in Chemical Engineering from Vanderbilt University and an MBA from Illinois Institute of Technology.
8. Dr. Claire Kinlaw, Lead Product Development, TerViva BioEnergy
Claire is an MBA-trained scientist and currently Project Lead for TerViva BioEnergy, a startup commercializing the high oil seed tree pongamia in the US as a feedstock for biodiesel refining. Pongamia pinnata, a nitrogen fixing tree native to India that grows on marginal soils. TerVia is working to commercialize this tree as a renewable source of diesel fuel, planting across the southern USA on pasturelands and other lands not used for food production. Claire leads the R&D effort to improve the underlying asset, the tree for even greater, more predictable oil production and good growth characteristics in US locations. Prior to joining TerViva in 2010, Claire developed commercial strategies for biotechnology startups and small businesses, negotiated and managed research and business agreements, directed the USDA Institute of Forest Genetics, and led life science research projects with molecular genetics and genomic science focus. Claire holds an MBA from UC Berkeley, a PhD in biochemistry from Rice University, and a BA in chemistry from the University of Virginia.
9. Nicole Kennard, co-founder and former CEO, New Leaf Biofuel
Nicole Kennard founded New Leaf Biofuel in 2006 with four co-founders, with the aim to be the biggest provider of biodiesel in San Diego County, a dream that involves trucking tons of used fryer grease from 900 area restaurants to New Leaf’s San Diego processing facility and converting it into B99 (99 percent biodiesel fuel), which is then purchased by government and business fleets across the county, such as Sun Diego Charter Co and C & D Towing, and the Regional Transportation Center, San Diego’s only alternative fueling station. She built the company to 10 employees and a company capacity to produce 140,000 gallons of fuel a month. Nicole has BA in Applied Mathematics and Computer Science from UC San Diego and an MS in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis on Renewable Energy from San Diego State University. Formerly, Nicole was the Coordinator of the Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Center (IAC), located at San Diego State University. She is also a renewable energy adviser and biodiesel consultant for the San Diego City School District and a co-founder of the Biofuels Action and Awareness Network, a student action group at UCSD focused on community outreach and education.
10. Susan B. Leschine, Founder and Chief Scientist, SunEthanol
Susan Leschine founded and was the Chief Scientist of SunEthanol, now QTeros. Currently, Dr. Leschine is a senior faculty member in the Microbiology Department at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Dr. Leschine is internationally-known as an authority on the biology and diversity of cellulose-digesting microbes. Her research formed the basis for SunEthanol’s Q Microbe biodigesting technology.
Article by Lisa Ann Pinkerton, founder of Women In Cleantech & Sustainability, a networking and career development group dedicated to the advancement of women in various environmental technology sectors. She is also Founder and President of Technica Communications, where she handles public relations and marketing strategies for cleantech and biotech companies. Lisa Ann is a former award-winning broadcast journalist who reported for National Public Radio, PBS Television, WPXI-NBC, American Public Media, and Free Speech TV.