Venture capitalism might be one of the last places you’d think to look for eco-conscious business practices, but Michael Bevan ’93 has helped pioneer the idea that financial success doesn’t have to come with environmental costs. Bevan, co-founder and managing director for the venture capital firm Element Partners, has been investing exclusively in alternative energy companies since 1996—long before “living green” became vogue, even longer before most investment firms would’ve gone anywhere near the idea of green investing.
So how did a guy whose livelihood depends on business strategy and profit margins come to be an environmentalist? Simple. A tree-hugging college roommate.
While at Denison, Bevan’s roommate, Mike Menzies ’93, designed his own major in an area he called “sustainable development.” At the time, sustainability wasn’t widely known, and Menzies was, well, a little weird. “I loved the guy,” Bevan says, “but honestly, I thought it was a bit of a crackpot idea.”
After graduation, Bevan went off to earn a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Pennsylvania. But somehow Menzies’ crackpot ideas stuck with him. “I started to realize he may have been ahead of his time,” Bevan recalls. “I started thinking about how humanity was having a negative impact on the environment, and I realized that there were opportunities to make money on figuring out a way to reduce that impact.”
Fifteen years and hundreds of millions of investment dollars later, Bevan’s company is one of the country’s longest-running venture capital firms to invest in the alternative energy market. And today, with government and the private sector pumping more money into alternative energy than ever before, green tech is on the rise—a very fast and lucrative rise. “Hundreds of public companies are now green technology businesses,” Bevan says. “Whether it’s water companies or electric vehicle companies or solar panel companies or wind turbine companies, these are massive markets, and their stock values are shooting to the moon.” Take, for example, Element Partners’ current investment portfolio. It includes companies such as Seven Seas Water, one of the largest water-desalination and wastewater treatment companies in the Caribbean: It has doubled its revenue every year since its founding in 2006. And there’s Norwegian electric car-maker Think, which plans to open its first U.S. manufacturing plant in early 2011 and projects $100 million in revenue over the next year.
Today, Bevan still keeps in touch with the roommate who inspired him more than a decade ago. Menzies lives in Portland, Ore., and owns an organic farm. “Our W2s look a little different,” Bevan says with a laugh. “He always joked that I was going to go off and make money, and he was going to go save the world. Turns out we’re both trying to save the world. I’m just making more money doing it.”