Tony Blair and Khosla Ventures: How the Former PM Can Help a Greentech VC Firm

Last Updated May 25, 2010 6:10 AM EDT

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair doesn't have any of that fancy tech or financial expertise (by his own admission). So what can Blair, who was just appointed senior adviser to Khosla Ventures, possibly contribute to the secretive greentech venture capitalist firm?

Blair's expertise is policy, and the former world leader has what you'd call connections. Blair himself pointed to these very qualities Monday during a summit for Khosla Ventures' limited partners in Sausalito, Calif., where the announcement was made.

There are two things I can help with: Understanding what the trends are in government policy and regulations. And there is a global set of connections that I may be able to help him make.
But Blair will be more than a glorified greentech matchmaker. For one, Blair's knowledge of the political climate will help Khosla Ventures' portfolio companies determine the best time to enter particular markets throughout Europe, and more importantly, in developing countries like India and China.

The addition of Blair to Khosla could also give the venture capitalist firm some political clout as it vies for those Department of Energy dollars as well. That tactic paid off for Kleiner Perkins, another VC firm. Fisker Automotive, a Kleiner Perkins portfolio company, received last year a $529 million DOE loan after former Vice President Al Gore became a partner in the VC firm. Gore also backs Fisker and has purchased the company's hybrid-electric luxury sports car, the Karma.

Blair's involvement also marks a shift within Khosla Ventures, a traditionally cagey VC firm started by Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla. Khosla is currently investing $1.1 billion in disruptive clean technology companies of just about every variety including solar, water, cellulosic ethanol, batteries and electrical efficiency. The progress within any of these companies is often short on details. The appointment of such a public figure may be a sign that Khosla Ventures is in a sharing mood.

And in fact, details about some of its portfolio companies did come out during the summit. Kior has developed a catalytic process that converts biomass into a renewable crude oil. Kior CEO Fred Cannon revealed the company is making 15 barrels a day at a plant in Houston, up from just a few liters a day last year; and said they're competitive on oil prices at this scale. And Calera, a company that captures carbon dioxide and other emissions and converts it into sustainable building materials like concrete, said carbon sequestration can be profitable, according to a Greentech Media writer Michael Kanellos, who was at the summit.

Also from Greentech, New Pax has created an air conditioner that uses 75 percent less energy than conventional units; and Skybox Imaging has created microsatellites that will enable them to get an up close view of what's happening every day on earth. The goal would be to use these to study traffic patterns in detail for urban planning.

Photo of Vinod Khosla and Tony Blair from Khosla Ventures Flickr account Related: