Hours ahead of battery maker A123 Systems' initial public offering, optimism is already running high that the company will crack open a stagnant market and convince investors that they should also buy into other stock offerings.
A123 made an 11th-hour call yesterday to raise the price its opening price by 23 percent, to a range of $10 to $11.50. If the company gets traction it will bring in about $250 million. That's not bad, for a firm that lost $40.7 million in the first half of the year. Its revenue was only slightly higher, at $42.9 million.
But A123 is well positioned. It started off selling batteries into the power tool market. That led to electric cars -- which are not yet common on the road, by any means. The expectation is that electric vehicles will multiply rapidly in coming years; even if they don't, A123 is also starting to make batteries for utilities, to store excess capacity from solar or wind power farms.
Battery technology also takes a long time to perfect, meaning newer competitors could take years to catch up to A123, offering some stability. So as startups go, it's a good company to attract attention from the stock markets during a protracted downturn. The question is whether others can follow in A123's footsteps.
I'd say "yes", and here's why: Investors seem to be wising up to what actually works in cleantech. When A123 first filed for an IPO last year, it was in a group of other renewable energy companies, including Imperium Renewables, a biodiesel maker. That company burned through a massive amount of cash very quickly, and is now in no position to have an IPO, or do much of anything else.
Ditto for dozens of other biofuel companies, including corn ethanol busts that did go public, like Verasun and Pacific Ethanol. But, as with the internet boom, all this simply meant that investors were still getting their bearings. It wasn't yet evident which areas of cleantech would make for the best bets.
Now the picture is becoming clearer, and companies like A123 are offering growth prospects that are based on more than just hype.
There's also a line of other companies that have met with some success, and are just waiting for the chance to go public. There are some obvious candidates here. Tesla Motors, the electric car maker, is working on its second model and would probably be thrilled to go public. Silver Spring Networks, a smart grid equipment maker, has inked dozens of deals, and will need cash to expand.
First Wind, a wind developer that filed around the same time last year as A123, is probably still waiting for its chance. And then there are the solar companies who have more or less proven their technology and already drawn in lots of private financing: Solyndra, Nanosolar, BrightSource and some smaller ones like Sopogy.
It takes a while to complete an IPO application, but chances are some of the above (and some not mentioned) are already hard at work. Others will probably join in once the results from A123 come back. Next year will be one to watch.