In 2007, KiOR was founded by Khosla Ventures and a group of catalyst scientists who shared a vision of making renewable fuels from cellulosic biomass through a one-step catalytic process. A truly innovative process never before attempted, the catalytic conversion of biomass to a hydrocarbon fuel had potential global implications, since it relied on a simple, inexpensive conversion process and an abundant, low cost feedstock. Through this vision, biomass-derived fuel could be produced in seconds, versus the millions of years it takes to produce fossil fuels in nature.
Khosla Ventures (KV) is one of the US’s most prolific biofuels venture capital firms with ambitious investments in both cellulosic ethanol producers as well as those targeting hydrocarbon based “drop-in fuel” replacements. KV’s involvement with what would become KiOR started with a call from an engineer from Holland to Vinod Khosla, KV’s founder and visionary advocate of renewable fuels.
The concept – a high-value hydrocarbon created from biomass rather than an alcohol-based fuel like ethanol, where Mr. Khosla had been focusing – immediately resonated with him, as he realized its potential for meeting the world’s need for petroleum fuel alternatives. In contrast to the inventor’s interest in a licensing business model, KV envisioned that the KiOR process could lead to an oil exploration and production company without the exploration risk.
Implementing KV’s gene pool engineering methodology, a recruiting method focused on risk mitigation and fit, KV targeted the hiring of mission critical technologists to the company, ultimately leading to the hiring of Fred Cannon as KiOR’s President, and later CEO. With both location and leadership set, KV made a follow on $10 million investment in KiOR to fund the Company’s ambitious R&D program and pilot plant.