Cleantech Week SPEAKER HIGHLIGHT: Ryan Popple, Proterra President and CEO

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Popple_22a3.jpgOn Thursday, February 9th, 2017, during Cleantech Week’s anchor Global Forum award celebration, Proterra President and CEO Ryan Popple will speak about the future of mobility and how his company seeks to electrify the entire U.S. bus transit fleet.

In an interview with Forbes last month, Ryan Popple, President and CEO of Proterra, the leading innovator of zero-emission, battery-electric buses, described how he came to his fixation with alternatives to oil during his days leading a U.S. army platoon protecting convoys of fuel during the Iraq War: “If you weren't pushing fuel forward you had to be doing the reverse logistics, going back to refuel,” he recalls. While resupplying, he says, “we would literally offload ... armored vehicles in Kuwait and you'd see oil tankers going the other way.”

After leaving the army, Popple received an MBA from Harvard, followed by positions at Chevron, a biofuel startup, the finance team of Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors, and as a partner in Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers’ cleantech group.  Under Popple’s guidance, the Kleiner cleantech group invested in Proterra.  And, after Proterra’s first two CEOs were unable to ramp up production quickly enough, in 2014 Popple left Kleiner to become president and CEO of Proterra.

A drop in the cost of lithium ion batteries, combined with a push to transition away from dirty fossil fuels is likely to fuel its own transport revolution—with Proterra leading the charge. While the radical cost reduction of batteries is accelerating the transition to an electron economy, Proterra has been plodding along with much less fanfare than that received by Tesla. With a healthy jump on the competition, founded in 2004, the diligent team at Proterra has been quietly working away in Colorado, South Carolina and Burlingame building the world’s best heavy-duty electric transit vehicles.

“Why does this matter so much to us?” Popple asks in Proterra’s new blog. “Because we care deeply about strong communities and healthy environments across our nation and beyond,” he writes. “Over the past few months, several high-profile studies have been published by The American Lung Association, UNICEF, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, linking our transit system’s dependency on CNG and diesel fuels to significant negative impact on our air, our health, our environment and our economy.  These studies underline the urgency to transition away from dirty fossil fuels to zero-emission, battery-electric transportation across the country.”

The company says that it has so far sold more than 374 vehicles to 35 municipal, university, and commercial transport organizations across the U.S. Earlier this month Proterra raised $140 million in equity funding from existing investors including Tao Capital Partners, Kleiner Perkins, GM Ventures, and others. Before this latest round of funding, Proterra had raised around $180 million.

“Here at Proterra we continue to push forward battery-electric transit as an affordable and viable way to reduce the current dependency on fossil fuels,” states Popple. “We care deeply about the transit industry and believe that this will be the first sector to eliminate the reliance on fossil fuels.”

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Updated on January 26, 2017 2:34 PM