Interview Excerpts with Marianne Wu, Venture Capitalist

Marianne Wu is a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, where she focuses on Clean Tech investments. Wu was a consultant at McKinsey & Company and a design engineer at Nortel Networks.

It seems like the definition of a venture company is that you really have to be on the cutting edge and know where the cutting edge is.

Marianne Wu, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures and a judge at the Intel/Berkeley Challenge. Photo: Bruce Cook/Lester Center

Marianne Wu: I like markets that are in change. [Venture capital] is trying to be at the cutting edge because you're looking at opportunities, new opportunities, but you can certainly be too early at the cutting edge. And so you might know that there is something that's going to happen, but if it's going to happen in ten years, twenty years, it's not really appropriate [for an investment]. So you want to play that leading edge, but you don't want to be too far out in front.

That's a difficult dance.

Wu: That's one of the things that we're always trying to figure out. Will the technology work and will it deliver as promised? But to the extent that they're new markets or changing markets, how will they unfold? These are the elements that we're trying to play when we're trying to understand how they fit against each other for companies. But, certainly, part of what's interesting about this company-about venture-is the opportunity to be working with such really smart people who are a driving change in the industry.

Is green tech is the next big thing?

Wu: The "next big thing" seems like a move from one hot thing to the next. I actually think it's a much more fundamental change that we're going through. It's not that we're hot today and tomorrow it's going to be some next hot thing. We have a changing situation in terms of worldwide energy demand. We have China and India coming on line in big ways. They're demanding a lot of the worldwide resources for energy. We have generalized population growth; we have a much higher concentration of people in the cities, and this is driving overall demand.

So we have a supply and demand problem because demand is increasing and supply is dwindling or flat. ... We have very significant climate problems that we need to address, and there's real personal will in individuals to try to address it. That's now getting reflected in businesses and in the way businesses think about things and then there's a very real financial aspect to all of this, too. As supply and demand tighten, you have much more volatility in the prices of energy. GE, Walmart and other green leaders are moving into green technologies as a way of protecting themselves in the long term from a financial perspective. We have the supply demand. We have the climate change and then we have government policy coming in to lend support to clean technologies. That's partly driven by climate, but it's also driven by the domestic economy in terms of stimulating growth and getting more security to our energy supply, particularly around transportation fuels.

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