Andrew Perlman (born 19 June 1975) is an American entrepreneur who has co-founded nine venture-backed companies in the telecom, high-tech, pharmaceuticals, energy, water, and biotechnology industries. He is currently General Partner of GreatPoint Ventures, and Chairman and CEO of GreatPoint Energy, a company based in Chicago, Illinois which develops technology to produce clean natural gas from coal. Mr. Perlman has been featured on the MIT Technology Review’s list of the world's top 35 innovators under the age of 35 and Crain’s Chicago Business’s list of 40 leaders under 40 in Chicago. Perlman and GreatPoint Energy have been profiled by the Wall Street Journal, NPR, Forbes, and Fast Company.
Perlman was born in Boston and grew up in the cities of Newton and Cohassett in Massachusetts. At age 12, he began tracking down the owners of dormant bank accounts, and taking a 20% commission in exchange for leading them to their forgotten money. Later in his youth, he applied for a federal license to construct an ethanol still in his parents’ house, though he was unsuccessful.
Perlman began college at Washington University in St. Louis, and as a sophomore he attempted to license and commercialize a university-owned technology to prevent credit card fraud. The university declined the request because he was still a student, so Perlman simply dropped out. The university "said they didn’t do business with former students, because they didn’t want them dropping out to start companies,” according to Perlman. So he left, determined to become a millionaire by age 21. He failed in this goal, but just barely.
Perlman and a friend dropped out of Washington University and moved to Washington D.C., where they “hung around business and government offices, knocking on doors, asking anyone they could find about some kind of new technology they could turn into a business.” The two had little technical education, but through research and trial and error, they built a device that converts voice calls into a data format. When the 21-year-olds showed up at a global networks conference in 1996, they were literally laughed at. But by age 22, they signed a deal for the first $14 million in startup financing for their new company Cignal Global Communications. Three years later, Perlman sold the company for $200 million.
Perlman went on to “launch five successful startups before he turned 30.” On its list of the world’s top 35 innovators under 35, the MIT Technology Review cites Perlman’s current project GreatPoint Energy as well as other disruptive technology ventures in important areas: “cheaper desalination plants, anti-obesity medicines, drugs that fight diseases of old age, and [processes for converting garbage into biofuel and generating electricity from geothermal energy].”
To date, Perlman has helped launch the following companies:
- Cignal Global Communications – A pioneer in integrated voice/data communications technology; acquired by United Pan-European Communications (NASDAQ: UCOMA).
- Coatue Corporation - Developer of high speed flash memory chips; acquired by Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD).
- Coskata, Inc. - Commercializing technology to produce low cost liquid fuels and chemicals from natural gas or gasified biomass
- Sirtris Pharmaceuticals - Commercializing Sirtuin activating compounds to prevent and treat diseases of old age, such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes; taken public and then acquired by GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE: GSK).
- Zafgen – Developing novel drugs for the treatment of obesity; entering Phase III human trials. Zafgen executed an IPO on the NASDAQ in June 2014 and trades as (NASDAQ: ZFGN)
- AltaRock Energy – Developed and commercialized enhanced geothermal technology for 100% renewable power production.
- Foro Energy - Commercializing high power lasers for the oil, natural gas, geothermal, and mining industries.
- Oasys Water – Provider of advanced seawater desalination and water treatment technology
- GreatPoint Energy - Developed a catalyst to convert coal into clean-burning methane gas, using much less water and chemicals than hydrofracking and producing much less pollution than coal combustion power plants
Perlman is on the board of directors for both Coskata Energy and Oasys Water. He also sits on the board of AMP Americas, an integrated transportation company working with compressed natural gas.
Forbes describes GreatPoint Energy’s founders as “a trio of Boston friends who have made a career out of scrounging through old scientific literature for business ideas.” Perlman’s “first love has always been the environment” and they wanted to do something in clean energy. They stumbled across research dating back to the 1970s oil crisis, when the government invested in research on using coal to produce natural gas. The project was dropped as soon as oil prices fell again and natural gas was deregulated. Perlman and his friends sought out the authors of the decades-old coal gasification studies and hired them to continue their research under the new auspices of GreatPoint Energy.
According to Perlman, “the U.S. has more coal than any other country in the world. It’s actually about as cheap as dirt.” However, the burning of coal for power production is a leading contributor to global warming, mercury poisoning in fish, and acid rain, so environmentalists are pushing to reduce the prevalence of coal combustion plants in the United States. Greenpeace calls it “climate change enemy #1.” GreatPoint Energy is attempting to bridge economics and environmental responsibility. The process developed by the company is much cleaner and more efficient than existing technology. The Wall Street Journal notes that “coal-gasification plants don’t require the vast quantities of water and chemicals used in hydrofracking, a popular commercial method to extract natural gas from shale, nor do they produce the air pollution, solid and liquid waste associated with coal-combustion power plants”. On top of that, GreatPoint Energy’s patented bluegas™ catalytic hydromethanation process uses only a third of the water and energy consumed by General Electric’s coal gasification plants.
As CEO, Perlman is responsible for developing the company's strategy, attracting commercialization partners, fundraising, and the development and execution of capital projects. The company has raised $562 million to date and is backed by leading strategic investors including The Dow Chemical Company, Suncor Energy, AES Corporation, and Peabody Energy, as well as major financial institutions and venture capital firms, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Khosla Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Advanced Technology Ventures, and Citi’s Sustainable Development Investments. This year, GreatPoint announced a $1.25 billion deal to build the first of 34 reactors in a remote, coal-rich part of China to satisfy the skyrocketing demand for energy as the country industrializes. The total project will cost an estimated $20 – 25 billion and will supply a trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This represents a massive leap in the scale of domestic production for China, which last year produced only 107 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The deal includes an equity investment of $420 million, the largest ever by a Chinese corporation into a venture-capital-funded U.S. company, according to industry tracker VentureSource.