Tag Archives: Tom Rand

MaRS Cleantech Fund finally launches with goal to secure $30 million — good news for early-stage startups in Ontario (and potentially beyond)

This has been in the works for a while, so I’m delighted to hear that cleantech evangelists Tom Rand and Murray McCaig have formally launched their MaRS Cleantech Fund and, after first close, have secured half of their target of $30 million. I had a chance to chat with Rand in detail about the fund last September. Rand, a lead adviser in the MaRS Cleantech Practice in Toronto, explained that the fund is designed to feed the appetite of early-stage cleantech investors, starting with Toronto-area firms and expanding from there.

“What I’ve seen as a lead in MaRS over the past few years is a pipeline of opportunities that is unparalleled,” Rand told me then. “It’s only by associating yourself with an institute with that kind of pipeline that you can have this kind of seed investment vehicle.” What happened, initially, is that Rand found himself being an individual angel investor to many of the companies passing through MaRS’ halls — Morgan Solar and Hydrostor, among them. He figured, having talked to other angels like himself, that there was a serious appetite in the market for the creation of a seed fund that could take advantage of these more speculative, early-stage investment opportunities. MaRS had this incredible pipeline, he said, “but what we don’t have is risk money in the order of half a million dollars to $2 million that can get these companies to a Round A funding stage. Everyone knows seed funding is the place to be, but it’s difficult to do. We aim to fill that gap.”

Added Rand: “We’re willing to take technology risk when other people aren’t… We’re a filtered deal-flow engine for venture funds and big corporations. We do the triage for them.” He said the private fund — made up of angels and entrepreneurs willing to put their own flesh in the game — will complement some of the early stage funding and grants that, in Ontario, come from agencies such as the Ontario Power Authority and Ontario Centres of Excellence.

This is what Ontario needs, so kudos to Rand and McCaig for taking the bull by the horns and getting this done. Obviously, the idea for them is to make money for fund investors, but it’s an investment vehicle that was desperately needed in Ontario and, by leveraging the pipeline of opportunities provided through MaRS, will hopefully grow. The first two investments made so far are in GreenMantra Technologies, which can turn old plastic bags into lubricants and other useful chemicals, and Smart Energy Instruments, which makes advanced smart sensor devices for smart grid equipment.

Read Rand’s own MaRS blog entry for more details.

Guest post: Vote strategically to save Ontario’s Green Energy Act, writes Tom Rand

The following post comes from Tom Rand (PEng, PhD), director of VCi Green Funds and author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit.


Have we built an economy that’s running rapidly toward ecological collapse? Yep. Has any major party wholeheartedly embraced the sorts of carbon reductions required to avoid that collapse? Um, nope. Does the economy require a wholesale reconfiguration in order to be able to embrace long-term sustainability? You betcha! Does the Green Party have at its core the sort of restructuring that might work? Yep.

But I’m not voting Green in the Ontario election. Why?  Because there is too much at stake in the potential loss of the nascent Green Energy and Economy Act (GEA). The GEA is the single most progressive, forward-thinking piece of environmental legislation in North America. At this point in history, it just doesn’t get any better. It’s the real deal. If we lose it, Ontario will lose our first, real concrete step toward competing in the emerging low-carbon global economy.

But even worse, if Ontario blinks at this juncture, many American States that are closely watching will back off their budding legislative efforts to build their part of the low-carbon economy. The large financial institutions, which have finally emerged as participating players on the project-finance side (it’s banks that drive all large infrastructure projects, including renewables) will back away. It will take a decade to get the momentum back.

If Ontario loses the GEA, there will be heard all over corporate North America a collective “I told you so!”. The political risk associated with any really progressive climate legislation, whether it’s Green, Blue, Orange or Red in origin, will become the main hurdle to engaging the corporate partners that we need on side to move our infrastructure forward. The little bit of momentum the economically engaged environmental movement has in Canada —  the stuff that’s way past the feel-good stage — will subside. Worse, the GEA will become a lesson in what NOT to try.

Greens, your time will come, but this is not it.

For Ontario voters, pick your battles, and use your arrows wisely. It’s hard to compromise, believe me I know. Idealism is always easier, because you can always tell yourself you’re right and the world is wrong. But that’s just not good enough right now.

Results matter. Support the party that built the GEA, as they’re the only ones in a position to protect it. For Greens, the party-building can continue after the Oct. 6 election, and I’ll be there to help.

Guest post: In defense of the Ontario FIT program

The following post comes from Tom Rand (PEng, PhD), director of VCi Green Funds and author of Kick the Fossil Fuel Habit.

Fast forward to the year 2030: Canada and the U.S., driven by energy and climate security, have invested hundreds of billions in a continent-wide low-carbon Energy Internet. Vast wind and solar farms, biogas and geothermal power plants, spread across the continent feed that grid. So do countless smart buildings, energy storage facilities and electric vehicles. Will Ontario be a net seller, or buyer, of that technology? The answer depends largely on how, and if, the Green Energy Act (GEA) rolls out. It’s the Liberals, and not the NDP or Conservatives, who are promoting the policies that will ensure Ontario is positioned to become a major manufacturer and producer of clean technology.

The Conservatives would kill the GEA. This is the economic mistake of a lifetime. Clean energy technology is a bigger opportunity today than the microchip was in 1960, or the automobile in the 1940s. Those two sectors took off with strategic government support. The Interstate Highway System and subsequent Autopact grew the automotive sector, and initial demand from the academic and military communities seeded what became Silicon Valley. Entire industries do not emerge from nowhere, and clean energy is no different. The GEA places Ontario firmly at the forefront of the single largest global market of the 21st century. Killing the GEA, as Hudak as promised, is very short-sighted.

The GEA is big business, and a good deal for taxpayers. Currently 7,400 MW of power are contracted which could power 1.9 million homes. This represents $26 billion in investment. What’s the cost to the taxpayer? The equivalent of a coffee and doughnut added to your bill every month.

To deliver on the promise of jobs, the GEA must do three things. It must engage and motivate the private sector, remove as many hurdles to clean energy projects as possible, and most importantly – provide a long-term, steady hand on the tiller. The NDP’s proposed policy does none of these.

The NDP would have Ontario Power Generation (OPG) own and operate all clean energy projects over 20 MW.  That represents about 70% of all contracted projects. It’s out with the private sector, and in with the public. This brings back the days when large central government agencies had a virtual monopoly on power production. That’s not the way to build a globally competitive industry. Large, private sector players – whether it’s TransAlta or Samsung – must be at the table if we are to create an industry that can grow to compete on the global stage.

When Samsung comes to Ontario, they will not only build and operate large clean energy projects. They will establish manufacturing facilities, and – just like the Ford plants in Ontario – this will create the capacity, and the jobs that come with it – to sell across North America. Samsung, like Ford, will outsource most of the components, spurring the growth of a large supporting ecosystem of companies right across the province. That’s what the big players bring to the table, and we cut them out of the picture at our peril.

To placate wind energy opponents, the NDP have also indicated they would give back a municipal veto on energy projects. The health concerns cited by many opponents of wind energy are nonsense, as any review of the medical literature reveals. Pandering to a small, but vocal minority, would kill many projects before the shovel is in the ground.

Most importantly, what the private sector needs to see is continuity. The veto and the change to public ownership of large projects introduce the worst sort of political risk. Whether it’s entrepreneurs or the big banks, the private sector will only step up if they can be assured the rules will stay the same. By broadcasting that they will change the fundamental dynamics of the policy, the NDP’s policy will have the renewable energy industry heading for the hills.

Ontario has established a lead in ensuring that we will be a seller into the emerging, global clean energy economy.  When Michael Prue, NDP MPP for Beaches and East York says “You can get [clean energy] for half if you buy it from Quebec as opposed to putting up the wind farm” he shows the NDP just don’t get how to create the New Economy jobs of the future. It’s not about the cheapest electrons today. It’s about who gets to make the clean electrons tomorrow.

“Kick It” video by Tom Rand a funny look at what’s possible with green energy

My cleantech pal Tom Rand — engineer, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, now author — has a new book called “Kick The Fossil Fuel Habit” that’s attempting to raise more awareness of the potential for using renewable energy to wean ourselves from fossil fuels. He’s just finished a new video promoting the book, and it’s quite enjoyable to watch. Check it out.

Reducing carbon emissions ain’t so hard, if you just try

My friend Tom Rand has a short but no less interesting video filmed during a presentation he gave recently in Toronto. Rand helped build a “green hotel” that emits a quarter of the emissions of a comparable hotel. The workhouse behind this approach is geothermal, and Rand said it can be done in a way where energy savings exceed the monthly payments on a long-term low-interest loan. Now, the key is to get that cheap loan. Rand said it’s up to the federal and provincial governments to backstop such loans and mandate the banks to lend the money. It would help, he added, if use of this technology was mandated where it was appropriate. This, as Rand says, is low-hanging fruit that we’re simply not picking. Instead, with each new building or home we build we’re letting this ripe-for-picking fruit fall on the ground. Rand, it should be pointed out, is behind another move to have the government sell green bonds that would help fund these kinds of projects, or backstop the low-interest loans required to do them. It’s all perfectly logical, but I guess politics is never as logical as it could be.

Click here to watch the short video.