It’s official. The last remaining data source that showed any sign of life in cleantech has released its 2012 numbers, and it’s grim. The cleantech VC exodus, which has been buzzed about and exaggerated, is finally here.
Just under a year ago, I argued that talk of a “cleantech bust” in Wired and elsewhere was overblown. The meat of my case was the fact that cleantech had accounted for 15-18 percent of U.S. VC dollars from 2008 through the close of 2011, and the data I’ve seen since then leaves me convinced that this was basically correct. Unfortunately, 2012 is a different story.
I first noticed this in September when looking at early stage cleantech funding with data from The Cleantech Group. The data suggested early stage investment was still going strong even through Q2 2012. Data from other sources, however, including PwC, showed early stage cleantech taking a dive in the first half of 2012. CB Insights told a similar story.
Yesterday, The Cleantech Group—to my knowledge, the only data set that mid-way through the year was reporting a solid story for cleantech—released its full year of data, confirming that both overall VC activity and early stage in particular dropped off in 2012. Unlike in previous years, this can’t be explained by a slow year for VC. Through Q3, at least, VC activity overall was strong, with a particular emphasis on the seed stage.
Here’s the overall global story for cleantech VC:
And here’s the dip in early stage deals:
The CTG data, when broken out by quarter, helps answer the question of why the data didn’t look so bad when I last looked; Q3-Q4 were down significantly in early stage deal activity from the first half of the year.
Corporate investment was also down for cleantech in 2012, as was M&A activity. Oh, and it was a rough year for IPOs.
There’s really no good news to report in this data. For some thoughts on where cleantech VC goes from here, check out this Rob Day post (or this version in tweets). As for myself, I included in my 2013 predictions some optimism about data applications in the energy space, and I suspect that shifting investor interest from consumer to enterprise in the internet/software space might mean more generalist VCs looking at some of those companies. (“We’re not cleantech; we’re enterprise software!”)
Any rays of sunshine or harsh realities I’m missing? Let me know in the comments. And for a look at the sector-by-sector data, check out the graphs below.
UPDATE: The original version of this post incorrectly featured an old graph that only went through 2011.