Top 19 in 19: Meet the Woman Behind Excelsior Capital
Earlier this year Kayo reported on the Top 19 in 2019 – Renewable Energy Firms Founded by Women featuring 19 powerhouse females in renewable energy. These women are solving the complex problems facing our planet and the energy industry and leaders to learn from and be inspired by. One of the 19 is Anne Marie DeMent, founder of Excelsior Energy Capital, who shares her story, struggles, and lessons learned along the way.
1. What problem are you trying to solve? Where do you find your inspiration?
We are trying to solve the problem of connecting thoughtful, institutional capital with a fragmented and complex North American renewables market. Excelsior is an infrastructure fund with an exclusive focus on investments in solar and wind power generation assets. We live and breathe renewables, and renewables only, because we think the market demands this level of focus and experience given its complexity. The complexity is born in part out of the layers of Federal, State and local tax and other incentives, and the fragmentation is largely a bi-product of the local nature of solar and wind development with the need for local permits, buy-in of local landowners and the support of local communities.
Where do I find my inspiration? This is a big question. On a fundamental level, I find it from my parents and their encouragement from the earliest days to create something meaningful with a short life. On a more immediate level, I find inspiration in my three partners who co-founded Excelsior with me. Creating a partnership is an interesting endeavor. The four of us come from very different backgrounds, both personally and professionally, and this diversity creates incredible opportunity – opportunity to expand the world of what is possible and opportunity to put ego at the door and always seek to understand another’s perspective. This is challenging! All of this opportunity for growth is in the midst of often stressful moments as you create a business together, while also juggling personal demands (in each of my partner’s case, multiple children!). I am constantly amazed and inspired by the day in and day out commitment of each of them to this partnership and to consistently expanding viewpoints to encompass the diversity of the partnership.
2. “The otherness that was hard at the beginning was my towering strength as a CEO,” said former PaperSource CEO Sally Pofcher at our last conference. What unique characteristics do you have? Was there something that may have been seen as odd or challenging or a weakness at one point in your career that has emerged as a strength as a founder and C-Suite Leader?
As a junior associate, green out of law school, I struggled with the job scope of a junior lawyer in a big firm. I came out of law school desiring to think globally and strategically when what was really needed for the role was to focus on making sure the disclosure schedules were accurate and that the authorizing resolutions included the appropriate signatory. Consequently, as I moved through my career, I continually migrated toward roles that involved problem solving and strategic thinking, and less day in and day out perfection. My brain naturally trends toward trying to connect dots and find the relational value of disparate slices of information and experiences. This mindset has been incredibly helpful as a co-founder of Excelsior as the role demands a bird’s eye view and navigating a labyrinth of daily problem solving from fundraising, to closing investments to building and growing the team.
3. Tell us how you came up with your firm’s name. What does your firm’s name mean to you?
We are very creative – Excelsior (the name of the city where HQ is located), Energy (we acquire, own and operate renewable energy projects), Capital (we invest capital for our LPs). It is fortunate that Excelsior also means “Ever Upward” in Latin. Core to our DNA is creating returns for our investors by being grounded in reality. As I think of the term “ever upward”, I envision a climb up a mountain, which requires a groundedness in the midst of upward progress. There are a lot of folks out there looking for returns and the “ever upward”. What is important to Excelsior is ensuring that we pursue that return and that “ever upward” from a place of fact and reality. We always diligence the assets and optimization potential meticulously, and good, bad or ugly, face the reality of the diligence findings, and from there assess the relative merits and opportunity to find the return for investors. We lose a lot of deals, and we think that is a good thing, because if we are to plot an ever upward path, it can’t be a pie in the sky jump, but a realistic step by step approach.
4. Tell us about the decision to go it alone versus partner up with co-founders. What would you look for in a co-founder?
It was the most natural and easy decision. My three partners, Chris, Alex and Ryan, had been my colleagues in a past life for a number of years. We had gone through the highs and lows and then highs again of bringing a company to IPO and then through to a sale. When you go through the messiness of business and life together and still respect the hell out of each one individually and collectively, and can still stand being in the same conference room at 4 a.m., it is a no-brainer to decide to partner together as co-founders.
5. How long did it take to raise your first round of capital or your first fund? What lessons did you learn during fundraising that you can share with others?
It took around three months from launch of the Fund to our first funding close with our anchor investor. However, we had a long-standing relationship with our anchor investor and had a strong basis of trust that led to the fairly quick first closing. What I have come to learn in the fundraising process is that like any relationship, it is about spending time with potential investors, getting to know how they think, what they care about, and having them get to know how we think and what we care about. We are focused on long term contracted cash flows creating stable returns for our investors (and us as we personally invest alongside our investors), and so we think it critical that we create a relationship based in trust with any investor.
6. What advise would you have to a class of 11th grade girls interested in business, finance or entrepreneurship?
Be patient with yourself. Pay attention to what you are naturally good at and enjoy and try to find work that naturally aligns with how your brain works; however, if you don’t find the perfect job out of the gate (which you won’t), be patient with yourself and the job and the process. Learn what you can from every experience and try to remain human and kind no matter how much you like or dislike your job.
7. How do you continue to develop yourself?
Relationships. As my career evolves, I find that I evolve and grow most by spending thoughtful time with people I respect, both personally and professionally. This is one of the reasons I have really enjoyed the Kayo events, as there is always spaces of time crafted for meaningful dialogue with really interesting, kick ass women.
Oh and of course, reading the New York Times and Japan Times over coffee on Sunday morning.
Download the full Top 19 in 19 Women in Renewable Energy report and be inspired by 18 other women trailblazing this industry.