Deepening his ties to Silicon Valley, former Vice President Al Gore said on Monday that he had become a partner in the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
The alliance provides Gore an additional pulpit for his advocacy of environmental causes, but also gives the Nobel laureate an opportunity to nurture green businesses.
Venture capitalists said the move could help companies financed by Kleiner establish ties with big business and government, and obtain subsidies that encourage broader use of new technologies.
Gore’s part-time duties will entail investigating the growth potential of startup companies focused on the alternative energy sector, and then weighing in on whether Kleiner Perkins should fund those companies.
Gore said he would donate his salary from the venture to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit policy foundation. Venture capitalist partners also typically earn a management fee of 2 percent of the amount of money they invest, but the potential for home run returns comes from the 20 percent they take of the profit when the startups they invest in go public or are acquired. Kleiner Perkins declined to say whether Gore would receive a management fee or participate in profit sharing, noting the matters of compensation are private. “I will pull my share of the load at Kleiner Perkins,” Gore said in an interview. “I will be involved in a lot of activities.”
Gore is no stranger to Silicon Valley. He sits on the board of directors of Apple, and has an advisory role with Google. He is co-founder and chairman of Current TV, a television network based in San Francisco that broadcasts viewer-created content.
The Democratic Party presidential nominee in 2000, Gore keeps an apartment in San Francisco and spends five to six days a month in the area; a portion of that time will now be spent at Kleiner Perkins, which is based in Menlo Park, Gore said.
John Doerr, a partner at Kleiner Perkins who is a fierce advocate for the development of alternative energy technologies, said Gore will help the firm, one of Silicon Valley’s largest, attract innovative start-ups — an advantage in the firm’s competition with other venture capitalists.
Silicon Valley’s venture firms have focused increasingly on funding alternative energy start-ups, so-called cleantech companies.
The early investors are banking heavily — risking billions of dollars — on the proposition that solar power, various forms of ethanol, and other innovations will benefit as oil prices rise and federal and state governments increase incentives for use of alternatives to oil.
Thus far, though, very few of the alternative energy start-ups have rendered big payoffs for investors. The investments are relatively recent, and venture capitalists say it takes time for start-ups to grow to where the technology is ready for the mass market.
But the other more fundamental challenge is that oil and gas provide most of the world’s fuel and displacing them in a cost-effective way presents an enormous challenge.