Vinod Khosla: The most hated man in cleantech

Vinod Khosla is considered the leading cleantech investor in the world today but many of his peers still wish he would shut up. A founder of computer company Sun Microsystems (JAVA) and former general partner at venture capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Vinod Khosla piled into the green investment space more than five years ago and was an early believer.

He has since become a vocal cheerleader for the sector. On September 1, he announced that he had raised a whopping $1 billion for investments in a new venture capital fund, Khosla Ventures, to be focused on green technologies. Prominent backers including CalPers, the powerful and enormous public workers pension fund for California. But along the way Khosla has quietly alienated many in the venture capital green investment community with his brash public statements at big conferences. "What is he bashing this week?" quipped one green technology consultant when Khosla's name came up in conversation at the recently concluded AlwaysOn Going Green Conference in Sausalito, California.

Khosla angered many in the venture capital community last year with his public statements implying that investments in corn ethanol production were a mistake. Khosla began investing in corn-based ethanol production in 2005 and 2006, long before the oil price run up. While his economic logic might have been correct, his words spooked many of the same politicians who Khosla had previously lobbied hard for legislation to support corn-ethanol plants. This legislation created a subsidy and tax incentive system that many venture capitalists believe diverted investment dollars away from more promising and less controversial ethanol research ventures. "In Washington, a lot of people think he's a snake oil salesman," said one venture capitalist at the conference.

Indeed, Khosla, who is heavily invested in algae biotech startups, said at the AlwaysOn conference that real production of algae-based biofuels are much farther out than many leaders in the industry believe to be true. "We understand that it's unproven technology but frankly he doesn't have the best track record in this realm," said on industry executive. Other venture capitalists expressed frustration that CalPers would give money to Khosla but not to other well respected green tech investment funds in Silicon Valley.

Of course, a lot of this griping can be attributed to sour grapes writ large in an investment environment where credit remains tight and deal flows remain diminished. And Vinod Khosla has made it clear that he will play no favorites and will support whatever technology he thinks will win. We contacted Khosla Ventures for comment but did not receive a reply by posting time (We'll be happy to append or create a whole other post). Definitely being an industry poster child means intense scrutiny and sometimes offering bold predictions can backfire in a hurry.

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