Interview with Brian Walsh, Head at WIND Ventures – a leading Cleantech CVC in North America and LatAm
This week, we are delighted to feature an interview with Brian Walsh, Head at WIND Ventures. Brian joined WIND Ventures in 2016 with the aim of supporting the global energy transition and accelerating the transition to a carbon-neutral economy, primarily focused on North America and LatAm.
Read on for further insights into the vision behind WIND Ventures, and how the team aims to support global cleantech pioneers to fully capture the market potential in Latin America.
WIND Ventures is the strategic venture capital arm of Copec, a leading energy and retail corporation throughout the US and Latin America (LatAm), and considered one of the most valued brands in Chile. WIND Ventures leverages Copec’s significant resources to accelerate startups and scaleups in realizing new growth.
HQ: San Fransisco, CA, US
Average Ticket Size: USD 1-10mn (Pitchbook, 2023)
Portfolio Companies: 75F, Ampere Energy, Ara, Busbud, Chiper, Grabango, H2Pro, Omnidian, SOURCE, Turntide, Xeal, Yotta Energy, Yummy, Zoomo, ClearFlame and one yet-to-be-announced
With significant experience in Cleantech VC, building your own venture, and strategy consulting, what led you to join Wind Ventures four years ago?
I found the opportunity particularly compelling. If you believe, as I do, that venture capital today is about specialization, then you also believe that capital only is not enough to be successful. Everyone has capital. WIND Ventures’ value beyond capital is to help global founders expand into Spanish Latin America, leveraging the resources of Copec, a major downstream energy company with significant consumer, commercial and industrial customers. I found this value to be compelling because the Spanish Latin American market is both large and ready for innovation adoption. I also found it to be distinctive. While there are venture funds helping startups to expand from the US to Europe or Asia, I found a gap in a group doing this for Latin America. When I joined, I coined our special value beyond capital as ‘unfair access to Latin America’, and we are still the only group bridging global founders to Latin America.
You have been in Cleantech investment for many years. How have you seen the space develop over the years, specifically looking at the past two/three years?
Yes, I have been in the venture Cleantech and Climatetech space for almost two decades. In my early years, it was very much a push effort. Now, with climate change largely viewed as a global problem that needs to be solved – a problem that is now both quantified and time-bound – it is very much a pull effort (customers across many markets are seeking to pull in new solutions to decarbonize). It is fundamentally different. In the more recent history of the past three years, Cleantech or Climatetech investing has navigated several external issues, including a global pandemic that changed consumer and enterprise behaviour significantly, a historic anomaly in the amount of venture capital deployed to the upside in 2021 and now, a rising interest rate environment. Each year has been quite different but manageable. Going forward, I see Cleantech and Climatetech remaining robust. It has to. Again, we have a global problem that is both quantified and time-bound. There is no better framing of a problem from which to rally and maintain focus. Urgency just keeps growing.
With Wind Ventures, you have a strong focus on Latin America. What makes this region particularly interesting in terms of innovation and investment opportunities?
We believe the opportunity for many startups to expand well into Latin America is significant. Our view is formed by five reasons. First, Latin America is a large and growing market. In terms of total size, Latin America is twice the size of the United States, with 650 million people. Secondly, the region is highly urbanized, with a large number of people all in the same areas. Latin America is actually equally urbanized as the US and more urbanized than Europe. Third, almost everyone has a smartphone and is connected to the Internet. Fourth, Latin Americans are prolific digital consumers. In fact, Latin Americans consume twice the mobile Internet usage compared to US users. Latin Americans are the top consumers of social media in the world. Lastly, the region has many world-class resources important to the energy transition. Chile is particularly interesting. Chile is a top producer of Copper today and holds the world’s largest deposit of Lithium (both elements are really important for electrification). Chile also has the world’s best solar and wind resources in terms of both raw resources and longest capacity factors. These really low-cost green electrons can be used to produce really low-cost green hydrogen, which can be used directly or used to make e-methanol, ammonia, etc. For all of these reasons, and more, the region is a really interesting market for many global startups and scale-ups.
We see global government support accelerating rapidly, i.e. the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and the EU Green Deal Industrial Plan. In your opinion, what is needed further to accelerate collaboration between the public and private sectors, and achieve a carbon-neutral economy on a global scale?
I applaud the steps that the US and EU governments have taken to accelerate the energy transition while upgrading infrastructure. It’s important and needed. I’d like to see other governments around the world take similar action. Ultimately, the global problem of Climate Change cannot be solved just within the developed world. The much larger developing world, where most of the world’s people reside, also needs to decarbonize. I’d like to see more programs that address this beyond just the US and EU and the developed countries.
Looking at the required innovations to achieve net zero by 2050, what would be your message/advice to fellow capital providers/investors and entrepreneurs to make the required transition successful?
I have two messages. First, entrepreneurs should understand that all investors have capital, but what really separates them is their value beyond capital. So, as a founder bringing a new investment syndicate together, my advice is to be deliberate in how your syndicate’s mix of ‘super powers’ can help you get to your next milestone and beyond. If a ‘light lift’ entrance into Latin America is appealing, for example, then come talk to us. Secondly, to both founders and investors, the only way Climate Change is truly solved is if the developing world, the emerging markets, are also part of the solution. This may actually be the biggest challenge, and opportunity, to being successful.
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