Solarus uses the sun to generate up to four times as much energy as regular solar PV panels do. With the recent closing of a € 6,5 million investment round, Solarus is now ready to scale up their impact. After winning the Innovation Award for most innovative startup for Clean & Affordable Energy, they gained more exposure, got validated and hired mister sustainability himself. Communications director Geerd Schlangen explains how Solarus makes sure to benefit from their win as much as possible.
€ 6,5 million investment for Solarus
Geerd, you received a 6,5 million-euro investment, how?
“Last summer we started with an investment round for six million euros. Among others, an impact-investment fund in England, the largest solar installer in Switzerland, a large international fruit trader and food warehouse developer and a Dutch impact fund have invested in Solarus. The last few years we spent building a large network and getting this investment meant visiting each of them in person and pitching Solarus time after time. Winning the Innovation Awards last October won us great visibility for a larger public and it confirmed to the investors that multiple experts believed in our startup. If a jury with senior executives and experts says ‘we see value in this concept’, that helps enormously.”
What does Solarus do?
“We develop and produce hybrid solar collectors, which generate both heat and electricity from one solar collector. Regular PV-panels use only the sun’s light to generate electricity, but we use both light and heat. The energy yield is very high; we use 70% of the sun’s energy effectively, which means we collect 3 to 4 times as much energy with the same surface of collectors as with traditional PV-panels. We mainly place our collectors at buildings or places that have a constant need of heat, like hotels, hospitals, sports and wellness centers and process industries, like food factories.”
How do you know how much money you need?
“We made sure that we set milestones and calculated the time and money necessary to get there. Investments with risk are part of the deal, but when you have proof of concept, like clients, test results and expert feedback, you can make steps. Important is to know where you need the money for and don’t shoot into a black hole of investors. Know how much you are asking and from whom. We looked for investors that benefit from our product and/or supported our causes of fighting energy poverty and CO2-reduction, because they care about what we’re doing.”
What will you do with the investment?
“Currently, we are establishing partnerships in Africa, Turkey and India. If you want to enter a country, you need to bring money to the table to develop. Winning clients in new regions costs money. Besides that, our team is expanding exponentially, we went from 13 employees last year to 30 now. It is also the type of business we’re in, you cannot make just a few solar collectors, so we needed to scale up production immensely to have sound business case and to make an impact on the way we get our energy. And we designed our product in such a way that it can easily be assembled in assembly factories anywhere in the world. These will be mostly joint ventures which will require investments from Solarus as well.”
Winning #AIA16 gained validation, a larger network, and mister sustainability
You mentioned that winning #AIA16 benefited Solarus, how?
“Besides getting our concept for clean and affordable energy validated by around fifteen experts, we met a lot of people during the finale at the Innovation Summit, and we made sure that we stayed in touch afterwards. With the contacts we met at the Investor Stage, we are currently in conversation about possible assignments. Another very valuable asset we gained is a new employee, Joost Brinkman, mister sustainability himself. In fact, he is the person from Accenture that helped us throughout the entire process and brought us in contact with a very valuable network. He truly believed in our startup and noticed the growth of our impact.”
What was and is your biggest challenge?
“Scaling up the production and making sure that the market sees you as a good solution. Especially in the hotel industry, we are gaining familiarity since we were selected by a large, well-known international hotel chain client. A month ago, we were at solar trade show in München and Tata Steel and a big Chinese party already expressed their interest in working together. Working with multipliers like these is truly a dream come true. However, a big challenge remains in opening factories in other areas. The process of approval to actually opening a factory can easily take a year. You have to hire people and educate them. One thing we try to do is always hire people from the area we are expanding to, they know the market and can come up with solutions you never thought of.”
And what makes Solarus scalable?
“We are covering a worldwide issue with two missions: 1. creating the best performing solar collector to decrease CO2 emissions and 2. combat energy poverty. In countries that are not connected to the grid, energy is very expensive, so people pay substantial part of their income to energy. In South-Africa we have set up an NGO, M-power, with which we install solar collectors on houses in townships. One of the hotels that uses our system offers their employees the installation of Solarus PowerCollectors for a monthly rent much lower than their energy bills. Their employer, the hotel, guarantees the monthly payment to M-Power. Overall, we are a BCorp (benefit corporation) and our goal is to positively impact the world while building a sustainable business, and that goes hand-in-hand.”
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