Will Renewables Ever Become a Real Business? They Already Are, says Expert
Watch video of Denniston speaking and the rest of the Ross School Commencement
John Denniston tells Ross graduates, "Greentech is the next big thing."
ANN ARBOR, Mich.—"It's been said that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste," said venture capitalist John Denniston at the 2008 Ross School of Business commencement ceremony April 25.
The crisis to which Denniston (pictured at right) referred is that of climate change. As a partner with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers of Menlo Park, California, he is a leader in KPCB's Greentech Innovation Network, which brings together businesspeople, scholars, and policymakers to pursue effective green technologies and public policy innovations.
"There is forming, right now, a race among nations of the world to lead the greentech revolution," Denniston told the newly-minted b-shool alumni. "To the winner will go some of the largest economic spoils of the 21st century."
Denniston is mapping a course toward those spoils right now and encouraged like-minded graduates to follow his lead. In fact, he was part of the team that conceptualized and launched KPCB's Greentech Investment Initiative.
"Greentech is the next big thing," Denniston said, "and its unique combination of profit potential and social good is drawing some of the brightest minds from academia, large companies, small companies, and public service." One of those bright minds is former Vice President Al Gore, chairman of Generation Investment Management. KPCB recently formed an alliance with the firm and brought Gore into KPCB as a partner.
"I'll make a prediction," Denniston told the Ross graduates. "By time you retire, historians will be referring to the era you spent working as the 'second industrial revolution' – a period of radical change for the world's energy infrastructure. I can tell you this transformation is already underway and venture capitalists are betting it will accelerate in short order."
Such issues as energy security, global climate change, and market competitiveness create a trifecta of unprecedented opportunities for business leaders, said Denniston.
"Experts believe the odds of a major disruption to our existing energy supplies, and therefore to our economic and national security, are frighteningly high," he said. "And this dilemma is certain to become more challenging as an additional four billion people take up residence in cities around the world, on account of further population growth and the inexorable trend toward urbanization."
Averting a climate crisis through greentech not only will help humanity, it will stimulate the global economy, he said. "There are jobs to be created, money to be made, and better social welfare if we do it right." And given its potentially massive market size, greentech could be the "most powerful economic force of your lives," Denniston said.
Entrepreneurial talent is sprinting into this sector, and the sense of urgency tied to the current “energy crisis” is hastening the adoption of new, clean sources of energy, he noted. The market value of publicly traded solar companies has gone from nearly zero to $100 billion in the space of five years, Denniston said, pointing out that wind power companies are now valued in the tens of billions of dollars.
But no matter what career Ross graduates choose, said Denniston, all business leaders going forward must be prepared to contend with an era of tumultuous change brought on by the credit crunch and housing crisis, not to mention an unstoppable trend toward globalization.
"To succeed in this dynamic environment, you need to make yourself highly adaptable, and to maintain a love of learning throughout your life," Denniston advised. "Disruptive change is going to be one of the very few things that stays constant – in your professional lives, our global economy, and our natural environment."
Denniston is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and is an active alumnus of the University.
Written by Deborah Holdship
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