Mark Bugher has seen a lot of high-tech companies like Virent Energy Systems come. And he's seen them go.
"The challenge for a lot of these companies is that they have extremely costly predevelopment prior to the life of the product," says Bugher, head of the nonaffiliated University Research Park, a high-tech incubator. "The upfront investment is so steep that that typically scares off investors."
Many folks with money to invest, he notes, are interested in quick returns: "People nowadays don't seem to be very patient."
On the other hand, Bugher notes that Virent has a leg up in another key area of investor concern: leadership. Company CEO Eric Apfelbach formerly founded the Madison-based Alfalight Inc., a manufacturer of high-powered lasers.
"Eric is a great manager, he has a great reputation, nationally and certainly in this marketplace," says Bugher. His role with Virent ought to give potential investors "a lot of comfort." Plus, he says, some investors may be drawn to Virent because they consider it a "socially conscious" technology.
But even with strong leadership and willing investors, the fortunes of entrepreneurial alternative energy startups hinges on "macro issues" beyond the company's control: the world economy, the price of crude oil, the viability of other alternatives.
"Things can go wrong," says Bugher. "On the surface, this kind of technology makes sense. But investors think about all the other caveats. Nobody can be sure that companies like this are 100% locks."