Angel Group Looks Beyond Northwest Energy With New Name: Element 8

Element8By Benjamin Romano, originally published by Xconomy Seattle.

After eight years funding a growing array of cleantech companies in the Northwest and beyond, Northwest Energy Angels is renaming itself Element 8 in a bid to signal its broader industry and geographic focus.

Members of the Seattle-based group invested about $3.8 million in 13 companies last year, hailing from Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Maryland, and New York..

Since the group’s inception, Element 8 members have backed 43 companies from seven states, one Canadian province, and Washington, D.C., to the tune of $14 million. More than 60 percent of its investments, by dollar value, have been made in the last two years, in what could be read as an indicator of a cleantech recovery.

“We have seen an increase in our membership,” says Lars Johansson, Element 8 co-chair. “That really helps when you form due diligence teams and eventually get a group of members to invest in a company.”

The group has nearly 70 members, all accredited investors. He cautioned that the ongoing investment level is hard to predict. “We’re hoping we can keep it at a good pace,” he says.

Element 8 has established itself as a go-to early-stage cleantech investing group over the years. It’s the longest-tenured angel group with a cleantech focus in the U.S., and attracts interest from around the country.

Still, the group’s leaders say they hear anecdotal reports of entrepreneurs from outside of the region deciding not to contact them on the assumption that the “Northwest” in the old name indicated a limited geographic focus. (It’s not a terrible assumption; many angel groups focus on companies in their local communities.)

Likewise, Element 8′s industry focus has become much broader than just “Energy.” At a recent showcase of its portfolio companies, Element 8 members heard from companies working on everything from premium hydroponic lettuce to sustainability management software to, yes, renewable energy.

“We’re certainly not just Northwest, and nor were we just energy,” says Alison Shaw, co-chair of the Element 8 outreach committee. “And yet when people saw our name, that’s what they tended to think.”

The group spent 18 months studying the name change, looking for something that would serve it for the future.

Element 8 refers to oxygen—the eighth element of the periodic table— which is an oxidant in combustion, a change agent, and, of course, necessary for life. These are metaphors for what the group’s members believe they bring to cleantech innovators.

“While we’re investing for profit, we’re doing it with this purpose,” Shaw says. “We have this unique niche focused on increasing sustainability, increasing cleantech innovation.”

The rebranding and 2013 investment totals are being announced today at the group’s Cleantech Leadership Forum in Seattle.