Latest Practical Instruments News
Mar 1, 2011
Four CEOs, $29 million in VC, $4 million from the DOE, a product redesign, and a name change cannot keep the rooftop CPV firm funded. by Eric Wesoff February 28, 2011 Four CEOs, $29 million in VC, $4 million from the DOE, a product redesign, and a name change cannot keep the rooftop CPV firm funded. by Eric Wesoff In Soliant's relatively brief history, it has gone through a series of CEOs , $29 million in VC funding, a significant product re-design and a name change. (Its original name was Practical Instruments. ) All of that churn might have been for naught with Soliant's final chapter about to be written. We've learned from a reliable source that Soliant has let go of most of its full-time staff and essentially suspended operations as it searches for strategic alternatives -- the firm has failed to raise additional funding and is looking for an acquirer . Soliant's current CEO, Terry Bailey, an Evergreen alum, replaced interim CEO Marco DeMiroz, who had replaced Art Buckland, who had replaced founding CEO, Brad Hines. DeMiroz was one of the firm's venture investors at Trinity Ventures. It's rarely a good sign when the VC steps in as CEO. Monrovia, Calif.-based Soliant makes, or intended to make, concentrating photovoltaic (CPV) systems. If that wasn't already enough of a niche, the firm was focused on rooftop systems, not ground-mounted solar, further restricting their total available market to commercial and industrial roofs in high DNI regions. Not a tiny market, but still a sub-segment of the solar roof-mount market. Bailey, in a previous interview, said, “CPV is not seen as widespread yet, but it’s getting to the point where it's ready to be deployed, especially for Soliant. " Bailey was Evergreen’s senior VP of marketing and sales in better days. Soliant was founded by former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory scientists in 2005 and received its VC funding from Rockport Capital, Nth Power, Rincon Venture Partners, Convexa, Trinity Ventures, and GE Energy Financial Services. Nth Power was a VC investor in Evergreen and did well in that firm's early financial gains. The company has made a series of commercial manufacturing and shipment promises over the years, with plans for 20 megawatts and 40 megawatts at various times. The firm had moved from low concentration to high concentration architectures soon after its founding. Tim Woodward, Managing Director at Nth Power , had this to say in an email exchange: "This is a very unfortunate situation given the great team and technology that embodies Soliant. After six months and numerous pitches, we simply fell short of the capital necessary to complete the initial 40-megawatt factory. This is despite a strong value proposition, a very capital-efficient business model, significant insider participation and a highly differentiated approach to the market. Our conclusion is that the investment community is very hesitant to jump in to solar right now for fear of continued price pressure from Asian manufacturers. We also were turned down for various government support programs despite a very compelling U.S. job creation model. We were frequently told that our request for less than $50 million was simply a difficult proposition for a program that needed to put billions to work. " In my previous encounters with Woodward, he had expressed strong hopes for the firm. Woodward remains committed, saying, "The investors are hopeful that the company will be able to raise the necessary capital through current partners to continue moving forward and prove out the technology in the marketplace. " The CPV market's growth hopes remain with Amonix , Emcore, Concentrix, and SolFocus .