July 29, 2009

Attorney Helps Algae Startups to See the Light of Day

By John Gartner - Matter Network

Putting the words "pond scum" and "lawyer" in the same sentence is no longer a slight; at least not if you're in the energy biz.

Attorney Todd Taylor has become expert in helping algae energy and other renewable energy startups to navigate the murky waters of becoming viable entities. Taylor, who has the unique title of "lead biomass shareholder in Fredrikson & Byron's Renewable Energy Group" in Minneapolis, has been active in the biofuel industry for more than a decade.

Taylor says his firm takes a "venture capital-like approach" to finding energy startups as potential clients. Fredrikson & Byron identifies promising young companies in renewable energy including wind and solar and advises them on negotiating contracts, obtaining financing, and finding industry partnerships.

By helping young companies -- often run by scientists with little business experience -- to become commercial successes, Taylor creates a stable of clients who'll keep coming back as they grow stronger. He counsels clients on how to find and secure financing, providing advice on questions such as "What should the terms be of $20 million investment?"

His long time in the industry and connections help Taylor to compare companies to existing technologies to determine if companies with good ideas can be commercially viable.

Taylor, who has no interest in being inside the courtroom, says he spends one-third of his day on business development for his firm and his clients. "I'm not a litigator. I'm a business attorney." One of the value-added services he provides is to connect startups with VCs and established industry players that are also Fredrikson & Byron clients.

Despite representing many of the Midwest's plethora of corn ethanol companies in the past and present, Taylor says he's "not naive about its drawbacks." He is currently working with lobbyists and the Algal Biomass Organization so that algae energy can have a fair shake in the marketplace.

"If you look at the (federal) renewable fuel standard, there is not fuel feedstock parity," Taylor says, pointing out that biofuel from algae doesn't receive the same treatment as more mature (and politically connected) industries

Taylor's mission also includes a strong component of education. To wit, he is chairing an all day seminar on August 18 on algae energy, entitled the "Fredrikson & Byron Midwest Algae Commercialization Conference."

As industries get increasingly specialized, the lawyers who represent them become equally as expert in their intricacies. Asking questions about other industry clients is wise, because as Taylor says, "You don't want to have a law firm that doesn't know your space."

John Gartner is Editor in Chief of Matter Network and an Industry Analyst for Pike Research

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