- BS Business Administration 1979
In his career as a venture capitalist, John Rockwell ’79 frequently draws on the knowledge he gained in his courses at the School of Business and Economics. He said that he picked up one of his most valuable business skills not in the classroom but on the ice.
“I came to Michigan Tech on a hockey scholarship,” said Rockwell, who lives in Silicon Valley. “I was one of twenty-six guys on a team. We all made contributions, and when we worked together we could do some great things.
“That same principle is true in the business world, too. I enjoy working with companies as a member of their team, helping them develop into great businesses.”
Rockwell, who has more than twenty-three years of financial investment experience, currently serves as managing director of Element Partners, a private equity firm that invests in high-growth companies offering innovative solutions to global energy, resource, and environmental problems. "e company, which is part of the Draper Fisher Jurvetson global venture capital network, has offices in Menlo Park, California, and Philadelphia.
Since 1995, Element’s team has successfully managed more than $1.2 billion in capital commitments in partnerships focused on investing in and profitably growing energy, industrial, and environment-related businesses.
Along with providing funding for pioneering companies in the field of clean technology, Rockwell provides strategic insights and industry contacts to help businesses grow.
“My goal is to build companies that are the best in their niche,” he said.
Rockwell considered a career in chemical engineering before transferring to the School of Business and Economics for his undergraduate degree. He went on to earn an MBA from the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.
“I realized that I wanted to work with people,” he said of the switch from engineering to business.
Before joining Element Partners, Rockwell served as a partner at Advent International Corporation, invested and managed early-stage companies with Materia Ventures Associates, and held various positions in 3M Corporation’s Acquisitions and Business Development.
During his time at Materia, Rockwell scored a huge success as CEO of Luxar Corporation. When he took the helm of the medical laser manufacturing firm, the struggling company was valued at $4 million. After two years under his direction, Luxar was valued at $130 million.
With millions of dollars on the table every time Rockwell does a deal, he’s looking for dynamic entrepreneurs who are offering new ways to solve problems. Of every 1,000 business plans that come across his desk, Rockwell will choose to invest in just a couple of them.
“I’m looking for entrepreneurs who are really passionate,” he said, “and I like to work with people who have good leadership characteristics. It’s also important to be good at what you do on the technical side and also have a business perspective.”
As the clean tech field continues to expand, Rockwell expects the opportunities for investment to grow as well. That’s an exciting prospect for an investor who loves the fast-paced nature of his work.
“The typical venture capitalist does about three deals every two years,” Rockwell said. “I like to be on six deals at a time, and I’m usually doing even more.”
For more information about Element Partners, visit elementpartners.com.