Two Babson San Francisco MBAs Found Opportunity in Solar
Kyle Cherrick MBA ’16 and Jeff Rodgers MBA ’16, Blended Learning students at the Babson San Francisco campus, met at orientation. They were assigned to the same working group for the first set of courses of their MBA program. From there, Solar Merchant, later to be known as Pick My Solar was born.
Cherrick has always had an interest in entrepreneurship and solar energy. In his undergraduate education at the University of Arizona, he wrote a business plan on utility-scale solar power development before the industry even existed in the U.S. He then joined a team, Axio Power, for three years and sold the company to SunEdison in 2011.
Cherrick wanted a similar experience in his MBA program at Babson. Halfway through the program he began to network and gained attention for his vague concept focused on the commercial solar market, later to be known as Solar Merchant. He came across the opportunity to apply for the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Catalyst Energy Innovation Prize (Catalyst) and that is when he called Rodgers to create a Solar Merchant team that could take home the prize.
A Winning Team
Rodgers and Cherrick applied for the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Catalyst Energy Innovation Prize and were awarded $25,000 in September of 2015. From September to December they balanced full time jobs, MBA coursework, and this grant to develop a Minimum Viable Product version of an online marketplace for commercial solar projects.
In December, the Solar Merchant team flew to Philadelphia, PA where they participated in the Department of Energy’s Sunshot Catalyst Demo Day, presenting their work to a panel of industry expert judges and an audience of 300 people. At the end of the day Solar Merchant was awarded a $100,000 follow on cash grant.
The Big Move
After the big win, Rodgers and Cherrick had their eye on their next move, Pick My Solar. Pick My Solar, also in the running for Catalyst, is an online marketplace for residential solar projects. Rodgers and Cherrick began working with them during the Catalyst process on the commercial side of the business. Pick My Solar was receiving commercial project leads but not following up with them, staying focused on residential. Solar Merchant took on all the commercial leads and the teams collaborated about how to build the Solar Merchant marketplace.
After both teams won Catalyst, they agreed to team up and Pick My Solar acquired Solar Merchant effective April 1st, 2016.
“Everyone was interested to work on this full time,” says Cherrick, “but recognized that we were a long way from earning revenue and viewed merging with Pick My Solar and raising funding together more favorably than going it alone.”
Pick My Solar
Pick My Solar is the main contact for the customer throughout the entire solar installation process. The service is free to homeowners, and installers only pay if they win a project. They are using software to streamline the sales process and the data shows that they’re saving the average homeowner over $4,000 for the solar system.
“Right now, our team is laser focused on scaling this solution across the country,” says Cherrick. “We are active in almost 30 states and we are ramping up our marketing efforts to build our brand into a nationally recognized and trusted source of energy advice. Like Kayak or Expedia for solar and energy storage solutions.”
The Babson Community
“The anticipation of Babson’s capstone course was the driving force behind this business,” says Cherrick. “Beyond that I had the chance to test drive our pitch at Rocket Pitch Los Angeles and Jeff was able to pitch at Rocket Pitch San Francisco. This was great pitching and networking experience.”
Additionally, Babson Associate Professor Phillip Kim introduced the team to Babson San Francisco student James Lancelot, MBA ‘17. Lancelot works in online advertising and was an early employee at a company sold to Google’s DoubleClick division in 2010. He now leads the group that advises Google’s customers who spend $100M/year or more in online advertising.
He was looking to become more involved with clean tech startups and after getting to know each other and some due diligence, he led the Pick My Solar follow-on Angel funding round in April and they also brought him on as a formal advisor.
“The experience of completing the Babson Blended Learning MBA, while working full time, and launching our company was quite an accomplishment for both of us,” says Cherrick. “But credit to Babson for creating a program that encourages working professionals to continue challenging themselves via the Blended Learning MBA. The entire program was well designed and intellectually stimulating.”