This article was written by Hana Loftus in January 2007. We're republishing it here as part of our month-long editorial retrospective.
Ask Mark Shorrock, CEO of the Low Carbon Accelerator fund, how he got into green investing, and he will cite childhood trips to a bird reserve where he still pays an annual "pilgrimage", choosing to do his French schoolwork on Greenpeace, and sitting on top of Scottish mountains while in the middle of his earlier career as a film producer. Not much about money or business - at least on the outset - but the 36 year old is successfully presiding over a unique beast, a publicly-listed venture capital fund that launched late last autumn, raising £45m capital from City investors which he is now busy spending on a raft of small companies that definitely aren't traditional.
Their mission is simple: "Low Carbon Accelerator invests in a diverse portfolio of unquoted private companies providing low carbon products and services which deliver immediate reductions in carbon dioxide emissions." They are hard-nosed and appropriately demanding: only investing in products or services that don't require behaviour change; they take a board seat on all companies they invest in; they want products that are scaleable; and they focus on the sectors of buildings and building materials, fuels, energy generation and energy efficiency.
Shorrock is a man of absolute passion about what he does. He left film after deciding to set up a wind energy firm in Scotland, Wind Energy Ltd, now the largest independent wind energy firm in the region. "I heard about the wind farms that they were going to build in the Hebrides and thought, that's where I want to be. Two weeks later I was going around telling everyone I was going to start a renewable energy company." After a few years, he started to look for a new challenge, realising there were so many other sectors out there that fascinated him. Originally he wasn't thinking of an investment fund, but after teaming up with self-styled "serial entrepreneur", City guru, Suffolk organic pig famer (and - OK - neighbour of mine) Richard Wyatt, now the LCA's chairman, the two started plotting.
After two years of researching, assembling a very impressive advisory panel of heavyweight scientists and business people, and finding suitable prequalified companies in which to invest, they wooed City banks and financial institutions prior to their launch and raised their £45m on launch, including £20m from giant ABN-Amro, entering London's AIM (Alternative Investment Market) stock exchange.
Ask Shorrock about products or businesses he's currently passionate about, and he ranges knowledgeably from California-based HelioDynamics, producers of a combined heat-and-power solar collector system, to his current fetish for super-efficient anaerobic digesters, of which he thinks he's just found the ultimate model to invest in. "I like things that could be anywhere," he says, and talks a lot about closing cycles, "wheels within wheels" and cites a company that takes factory-damaged car bumpers that would otherwise be dumped, turns them back into liquid plastic and sells the result back to the car factory as an example.
He's investing in a green volume housebuilder, hemp-and-lime "concrete" , and many others. But he's still on the prowl for more - a recent idea being energy-efficient household goods like electric kettles and toasters. He asks me if I know anyone making such things, and then adds: "I just need to start looking. One thing I've learnt in this, is that if you have a thought and then start looking, within a month you generally find someone who is doing it really well." Another world is here, in other words: and a testament to his energy, commitment and research skills.
London is fast becoming a centre for green investment, centred around AIM and the European emissions trading exchange. Apart from the LCA, investment funds include the Carbon Trust, a government-backed company that also invests in start-ups and commercial ventures, and Climate Change Capital, while a slew of international start-ups compete for AIM listing. "We want to prove to investors that there are lots of good things to invest in out there", says Shorrock. Worldchanging inventions will only fulfill their mission if they are financially viable too; with his intensity of scrutiny, their investments look to be hot tips.
Interview: Worldchanging investor Mark Shorrock is part of our month long retrospective leading up to our anniversary on October 1. For the next four weeks, we'll celebrate five years of solutions-based, forward-thinking and innovative journalism by publishing the best of the Worldchanging archives.