Is Kleiner Turning away from Cleantech? Speculation Abounds

I normally don’t blog about other blogs, but today I break the rule to weigh in on speculation that Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers is turning away from cleantech.

This shift in focus is suggested in a Fortune piece claiming that the storied VC firm is refocusing on its so-called sweet spot: the Internet. The observation was repeated in a post on GigaOm, where we are reminded of Partner John Doerr’s statement about a year ago:

“If we’d been able to foresee the crash of the market, we wouldn’t probably have launched a green initiative because these ventures really need capital,” Doerr said, according to GigaOm.

So what’s up? Kleiner Perkins did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Fortune piece reminds us of KP’s launch of its recent $250 million sFund for social startups and how digital gaming company Zynga could be a runaway financial success. (It already did well with mobile gaming company Ngmoco, which sold to Japan’s DeNA Co. for up to $400 million.)

So far, Kleiner has had just two cleantech exits, neither of which was a major success: Amyris Inc. and Ausra.

Amyris, a biofuels maker, managed to go public in September for $16 per share, and its stock is now trading around $20. But that hasn’t done much for Kleiner, which owns 4.2 million shares currently valued at about $84 million. It isn’t clear if it KP will see a return on its investment, since Amyris raised more than $230 million in venture capital before its IPO.

Ausra, a solar energy company, was sold in February to Areva. Given that the sale price wasn’t disclosed, it is fair to ask if Kleiner and Ausra’s other VC backers saw a return on their $129 million investment in the company.

Still, I think it is too early to claim Kleiner Perkins is turning the page on cleantech. After all, Doerr just last month predicted cleantech’s Netscape moment is likely to come next year as share buyers warm up to IPOs. That hardly sounds like someone whose firm is ready to abandon the push into green energy.

Obviously time will tell. But I find it hard to believe green will be replaced by digital at a time when rewards may be on the way.