This is the latest installment in our Energy Startup Series that gives executives at cutting-edge energy firms an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the energy industry, their careers and their companies…
The garages of Palo Alto are famous birthplaces for some of the most impactful high-tech companies in history. But for Quin Garcia, a managing director of the Palo Alto venture capital firm AutoTech Ventures, garages represent not only the birthplace of high-tech startups, but also the key to solving major transportation energy and safety challenges.
With a team of venture capitalists, transportation executives, and entrepreneurs, AutoTech’s goal is to bridge the gap between innovative startup companies and large corporations to deploy new road transportation technologies. Energy and transportation are inextricably linked; this Q&A gives insight into how the transport sector is looking at the energy puzzle.
1- What is the greatest challenge facing the energy industry over the next 5 years?
In terms of the intersection of transportation and energy, our biggest challenge is finding a way to transport people and goods along roads without inflicting damage on our society. Road transportation is responsible for a major portion of the world’s energy consumption, emissions, and human fatalities, but we can apply many existing energy and information technologies to the road transport sector to improve energy efficiency, emissions, and safety.
2- What has been the biggest positive energy industry change since the start of your career?
During the 20th century in the road transportation sector, vehicle designs remained fundamentally unchanged, information technology was underutilized, and startup companies made little impact. But, in just the past decade, new technologies are making their way into vehicles, the information technology sector (eg. Google) is converging with the transportation sector, and even the most conservative auto industry corporates are embracing startups as a source of innovation. The past 10 years have already altered the transportation sector, but in the coming years we’ll see even more dramatic transportation technology advances which will eventually culminate in fully autonomous vehicles, zero road fatalities, and dramatically increased energy efficiency.
3- What has been the biggest negative energy industry change since the start of your career?
During the Cleantech buzz of 2005-2010, the venture capital community invested enormous amounts of capital into transportation energy startups, but most of these investments failed due to the venture capital community’s lack of deep understanding of the transportation sector. As a result, from 2010-2013 it was very difficult for transportation startups to get funded, but recent successful transportation startups like Lyft, Mobileye, Tesla Motors, Uber, and Waze are leading a resurgence.
4- What is the greatest satisfaction of working in an energy-related field?
As venture capital investors in road transportation, we have early visibility on new transportation technologies that will dramatically alter our society some years down the road (no pun intended). It’s not only exciting to see groundbreaking transportation startups when they’re still just an idea, but it’s also rewarding to support these startups and their corporate partners as their technology becomes widespread and impactful.
5- What is the greatest frustration of working in an energy-related field?
A relatively small group of large and powerful corporations historically controlled much of the road transport ecosystem, and in many cases these corporations were hesitant to change, or even worse unaware of the need to change. For many years, this delayed commercialization of new transportation technologies, but luckily most of these large corporations have now realized that technological change is not only in their interest, but inevitable as well.
6- What is your firm’s greatest strength?
Our firm’s greatest strength is our focused expertise at the intersection of road transportation and venture capital. We only partner with leading investors, corporations, and startups which share this interest, so we leverage the road transport knowhow of these partners as well. We’re proud to say that unlike most generalist venture capital firms, we only do road transport, so we know very little about biotech, water tech, social media, or bitcoin.
7- What do you think the future holds for energy technology?
Many future transportation technologies will not be developed by large corporations alone, but via partnerships between large corporations and nimble transportation startups. We see many startups coming up with new mobility service, infotainment, driver assistance, and vehicle energy efficiency technologies, and over the coming years these startups and their corporate partners will grow to improve the convenience, safety, emissions, and efficiency of transporting people and goods along roads.
8- What is your favorite energy-themed film or television show?
My favorite show is “Jay Leno’s Garage”, as the guy is not only funny, but has the most ridiculous garage of futuristic and historical vehicles I’ve ever seen. If anyone knows Jay Leno, please let him know I’d be more than happy to pay HIM to let me work as his mechanic and hang out in his garage.
9- What is your favorite energy-themed book (fiction or non-fiction)?
This may sound nerdy, but I grew up building cars in my garage, and was obsessed with technical books and repair manuals for classic cars and racecars. I still have all those manuals, but nowadays they’re just collecting dust. It may not be a book, but the movie Interstellar really got me thinking about new ideas.
10- What would you have been if you didn’t work in energy?
I’d probably still be messing around with startups and cars even if it weren’t my “job”, so why not make living out of it!
Source: Breaking Energy