First Round: Crazy bad buyouts

Even a few years back, the Chinese capital seemed to have a growing problem with pollution; now, apparently, it is (to use the official US term) “crazy bad”. But never fear, Beijing: private equity will save you…

According to the Wall Street Journal, the US Embassy in Beijing recently discovered that air pollution was at its highest level since it started to monitor the air quality in 2007. Apparently, its tiny particle matter hit 886 micrograms per cubic meter; First Round has no idea what that means, but according to the WSJ it’s 25 times worse than the air quality in the US and about 12 times worse than China’s recommended standard.

And so, in a move that smacks of remarkable strategic foresight or brilliant PR opportunism, China-focused firm Northern Light Venture Capital found itself in the WSJ talking about its plan to invest in pollution-busting clean technology companies in China. Managing director Lei Yang even had an example: an air purifier business called Beiang. One thing’s for sure: if private equity can solve Beijing’s pollution problem, that’s worth enough PR points to keep the industry basking in positive headlines for a generation.

By far the best bit of this story, however, is that back in 2010 when the air pollution got particularly hideous, somebody (possibly a lowly bored staffer) posted on the embassy’s Twitter feed that the air was “crazy bad”. Brilliantly, this seems to have been absorbed into the embassy’s official terminology to describe an off-the-scale reading. When this came to light (no mean feat in Beijing, let First Round assure you), the term was quickly revised to the far more po-faced “beyond index”. Just say what you see, people!