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The Future of AdTech Startups – Meh

November 25, 2013

did a nice job looking at investments in adtech startups in a post called the Immediate Future for Adtech startups. TL:DR he found rapidly declining investments in adtech startups in Crunchbase while he sees an impressive number of adtech startups in Angelist. His takeaway seems to be that venture investors are less interested in adtech while founders remain hopeful.

At first blush that sounds plausible but given that I am contacted by many adtech startups, my feeling is that there is rapidly declining innovation and ambition in adtech. The last startup that I thought was ambitious and well run was MoPub. Taking on DFP and building an ad server  is ambitious.

Neumann listed 100+ adtech companies in Angellist that were founded in 2013. That sounds like a lot but looking at some of them I feel like their listing has more to do with Angelist’s growth than adtech’s growth. For example:

Advertrates is “a website where you can get advert rates of newspapers, magazines, tv stations, radio stations and so on in Nigeria.”

Citeads is a one person company with one follower on Angellist. He plans free classified ads for cities.

Adladl say they “Turn low value online display ads into high value search ads.” There are a bunch of other companies doing this.

Vorcu is an affiliate network for Latin America.

ZeeRabbit says it is “like AdWords for mobile user in-app activity that delivers instant targeted brand rewards.” It has raised seed funding.

Adsolut calls itself Admeld for Africa.

I haven’t looked at the entire list but I can’t find anything on here that is exciting. I understand why founders like this space. These types of adtech companies are easy to start and you can get some cash flow quickly, but it would be great to find a startup here that could be a game changer.

Some Good, Some Bad From Trina Solar’s Updated Q3 Guidance

November 5, 2013

Q3 2013 has been a good quarter for the likes of First Solar (FSLR :NASDAQ) and SunPower (SPWR :NASDAQ) and now Trina Solar (TSL :NYSE) is trying to join the party by offering updated guidance.

Investors will be happy to hear that module shipments will be between 750 megawatts (MW) to 780 MW, a healthy increase from the previous guidance of 650 MW to 680 MW.

Gross margins are also better than expected as Trina Solar is now offering a range of 14.5 percent to 15.5 percent, a marked improvement from the low double digits previously offered.

But these improvements will not automatically lead to higher profits as Trina Solar stated that net earnings will be impacted by an incremental accounts receivable provision of between $9.5 million and $10.5 million and a foreign currency exchange gain of $7.5 million to $8.5 million, net of change in fair value of derivative instruments.

Unsurprisingly, Trina Solar also stated that they would be revising its full-year shipment guidance of 2.3 gigwatts (GW) to 2.4 GW during their Q3 2013 conference call later this month.

Shares of Trina Solar were down 2.09 percent in afternoon trading while shares of First Solar were up 0.44 percent and SunPower shares were down 0.88 percent.

Now They Sell, And Clean, Solar Panels: SunPower Buys Greenbotics

November 4, 2013

The term “full-service solar company” seems applicable as San Jose-based SunPower (SPWR :NASDAQ) announced today they have purchased Greenbotics, a manufacturer of robots that efficiently clean solar panels.

While terms of the deal were not disclosed, the all cash transaction becomes the seventh acquisition for SunPower.

The acquisition of the Davis, CA-based company makes a lot of sense for SunPower as the efficiency of solar panels lessens when they are dirty. Greenbotics’ robots use less than a half a cup of water to clean panels – making them more efficient than the traditional manned power washer method.

Cleaning solar panels via robots is not a unique business model as Richmond, CA-based Alion Energy while Menlo Park-based QBotix has developed robots to adjust the angle of solar panels to track the sun, ensuring the best angle for maximum efficiency.

SunPower believes that if its customers employ Greenbotics’ Clean Feet robots, they can improve the efficiency of their panels by up to 15 percent. For a 100 megawatt solar utility farm, that’s a lot of energy.

Shares of SunPower were up 11.11 percent in afternoon trading.

OwnEnergy Sells “Wind Farm”

October 24, 2013

Sometimes it’s all about making the deals to develop the project as OwnEnergy announced today that it has sold the Two Dot Wind Farm in Montana to NJR Clean Energy Ventures. There’s only one catch: the 9.72 megawatt (MW) wind farm has yet to be built.

According to OwnEnergy, the project is in “shovel-ready status” meaning that NJR only needs to purchase six GE (GE :NYSE)1.62 MW wind turbines and have them installed to complete the project.

Developing a wind farm project to “shovel-ready status” is not an easy task, just ask the folks at Cape Wind.

Today’s deal has an incestuous side as NJR is OwnEnergy’s largest shareholder. But despite the close relationship and OwnEnergy’s history of developing community-scale wind projects, this is the first deal between the companies.

New Energy Energizes EcoFactor’s Series B Round

October 15, 2013

Home energy monitoring continues to be a growing market as Redwood City’s EcoFactor announced today that it has closed a $10 million Series B round with major energy producer NRG Energy (NRG :NYSE) joining the list of investors.

Previous inevestors Claremont Creek Ventures, RockPort Capital Partners, and Aster Capital also joined the round.

EcoFactor has developed cloud-based software that enables homeowners to program their thermostats via the Internet. But instead of just providing homeowners with an Internet accessible dial, EcoFactor’s software looks at a homeowner’s energy usage patterns, weather conditions, and demographics to automatically provide the correct thermostat settings.

Adding NRG Energy to its investor list is an interesting move considering EcoFactor is already working NV Energy (NVE :NYSE) and Comcast (CMCSA :NASDAQ) to offer its service.  Bringing in NRG Energy should provide EcoFactor with access to the company’s 2 million homes it services through Reliant, Green Mountain Energy Company and Energy Plus.

It will be interesting to see if NRG Energy, NV Energy, or Comcast eventually acquires EcoFactor as we would be awfully surprised if they were even allowed to sniff at an IPO.

Watch Out Solar City? Canadian Solar Launches Financing Program In U.S.

October 7, 2013

The U.S. residential solar market still looks an attractive revenue stream to China’s solar companies as Canadian Solar (CSIQ :NASDQ) will be offering a residential financing program for potential customers.

Working with Admirals Bank in Boston, Canadian Solar’s residential customers will be able to borrow up to $40,000 for a solar installation, subject to credit approval.

Chinese solar manufacturers trying to a capture a share of the lucrative residential solar market in the U.S. is nothing new. Suntech Power Corporation (STP :NYSE) gave it a run, even building a production plant a few miles from local competitor First Solar’s (FSLR :NASDAQ) headquarters. But that hasn’t worked out well for Suntech as they shut the doors to the Goodyear, Arizona plant earlier this year.

But offering financing isn’t the only key to cracking the U.S. market. Solar City (SCTY :NASDAQ) success can be attributed in part to a strategic marketing program that demystifies the solar investment while making it look attractive to the average homeowner. Until Canadian Solar displays the marketing chops to compete with current competitors while offering competitive prices despite the high tariffs, Solar City investors will probably continue to sleep well at night.

Shares of Canadian Solar were down 2.35 percent today while shares of Solar City were up 2.02 percent.

JinkoSolar Awarded 20 MW Contract

September 30, 2013

They may not have been awarded the entire project, but at least JinkoSolar (JKS :NYSE) was awarded one third of it. JinkoSolar will be supplying 20 megawatts (MW) of solar modules to State Grid Corporation of China.

JinkoSolar’s 20 MW is part of a 60 MW phase of a much larger project. The overall project will feature 500 MW of wind power, 100 MW of solar power, and a 110 MW power storage system. The overall project is supposed to serve as a platform for scientific research and a model for renewable energy projects.

JinkoSolar has to feel pretty good about being selected by the State Grid Corporation of China. They must believe the solar manufacturer, unlike some of its domestic competition, will be around to deliver the solar modules in Q4 2013.

Shares of the high flying JinkoSolar were down .22 percent in afternoon trading.

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