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Kleiner Perkins, stealth, and Ion America

Here's an interesting discussion by PE Week's Dan Primack of the "stealth" trend talked about in our recent Kleiner Perkins Q&A.

Speaking of stealth, we also asked Doerr about his stealth fuel cell company Ion America, and he declined to comment. We found remarkably little information about the company on the Web, though did find that it is based in Mountain View, and has gotten a loan of $2.5 million from WTI. According to normal VC habits, that loan probably means that an additional $3-5 million cash investment was made by Kleiner -- or so we're told.

How did we first hear about it? Someone told us about it, referring to the results of a Yahoo search a few weeks ago (the page has since disappeared from Yahoo, and we have only our printed out version -- sorry don't have a scanner immediately at hand), which revealed IA was advertising in July for a "Product Marketing Manager" in Mountain View. The description said the company is developing "a revolutionary fuel cell for the stationary power generation market. IA's fuel cells...statisfy the exploding market demand for premium and distributed power by delivering systems that are economically competitive to the grid delivered electric power."

We also find this, which shows the start-up isn't that young. Last year, the Navy was already testing Ion America's technology, which it called a "reversible solid oxide fuel cell technology," which could provide oxygen for a submarine crew to breathe, as well as power for use in submarine propulsion. The release provides other details about the solid oxide fuel cell.

We'd be interested finding out more about IA or competitors -- in case anyone hears anything. This energy sector is getting interesting, what with mercury in transoceanic air drift from Chinese coal plants being found in West Coast areas.

On our side, we were struck by the 100-employee threshold, referred to by Kleiner's Brook Byers, under which a start-up supposedly should stay stealth. That's a lot of people, and its hard to keep a company secret that long. We'll see how long Ion America keeps its cover.

UPDATE: We've since found out a lot more about this company. Getting the name of IA's chief executive, K.R. Sridhar, helps. Plug it into Google, and up comes some good pieces. This one from Business 2.0 is probably the best, showing a reporter has already called around. Turns out, Bob Corker, the mayor of Chattanooga, Tenn., has helped it get federal funding to do development work there. And boy, does this company have connections:

Besides Doerr's Kleiner Perkins, New Enterprise Associates is also an investor. Cypress Semiconductor CEO T.J. Rodgers is on its board. And it even has a Washington lobbyist, Andrew Lundquist, who previously was the director of Vice President Dick Cheney's notorious energy-policy task force.

And here, we find out more about Sridhar's network into Tennessee. Sridhar was a former colleague of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Professor Harry McDonald. Corker, in turn, arranged for Mr. Sridhar to meet with top congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

The result? Congress allocated $2.5 million this year for Ion America to test its new technologies in Chattanooga. Congress has been asked to provide another $2.5 million for the venture next year. The federal grant will flow through Chattanooga's Enterprise Center, a city-sponsored agency created to foster new technology ventures, and will work through UTC's computer simulation facility on M.L. King Boulevard.

Sridhar developed a way for Nasa to convert the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars into oxygen in the 1990s. He was director of the Space Technology Lab at the University of Arizona, 1996-2001.



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