Brighter Days for Brightergy

In a few short years, the solar power company has achieved rapid growth—and has plans for more.

Adam Blake, Susan Brown
and Ryan Gardner

Company Information
Brightergy Solar
1617 Main St.
Kansas City, MO 64108
(816) 866-0555

Type of Business
Solar energy design,
installation and financings

Year Founded 2003

employees 47

Keys to success
“Our overarching goal is to provide solutions that make solar affordable and provide a quality product. If we continue to do that, then our internal growth goals will take care
of themselves.”
-Ryan Gardner

During a time when most companies are still licking their wounds from the claws of the recession, Brightergy Solar is facing a more enviable problem: being almost too successful in a short amount of time.

In the past two years, the solar energy company has skyrocketed to front-runner status in the industry. In 2011, revenues increased tenfold over the previous year, and 2012 looks even brighter.

Brightergy, which specializes in solar energy design, installation and financing, was recently awarded $1.2 million in tax incentives to move its headquarters to Kansas City, Mo., from Lenexa. In return, the company has promised to create 115 jobs within the next five years.

The company has opened a third office, in Boston, and hired 30 more employees companywide.

When Susan Brown, now vice president of government affairs, lists the company’s staggering recent accomplishments, she can’t quite believe them herself.

After all, only five years ago the company— called The Energy Savings Store (Company to Watch, Thinking Bigger Business magazine, April 2010) at the time—was basically a mom-and-pop shop operating out of the founder’s home.

A Speedy Evolution

Even Brown’s introduction to the company is a humble tale.

She was a stay-at-home mom in 2007, when she helped protest a plan to build a coal-burning power plant near her Platte County home. She headed a citizens group, which eventually reached an agreement with the Kansas City Power & Light Company.

The experience changed her life.

“I realized what KCP&L was doing was legal, so it would continue,” Brown said. “If there is a need, they are required by law to build power plants. I wanted to do something with my life that would reduce the need for them.”

So she joined The Energy Savings Store, then a small company that sold solar panels and wind turbines. It was based out of founder Bob Solger’s Prairie Village home. Brown was in charge of sales and marketing, utilizing her vast network and helping out wherever she could.

By 2009, the company had grown into a Lenexa showroom, with 12 employees and solar panels and wind turbines on display. The company also had a second office in St. Louis.

One year later, the stars began to align.

In Missouri, rebates and other renewable incentives came on the solar power scene, offsetting the cost of investment.

Then Ryan Gardner joined the company. The Kansas City native got his start in solar energy several years ago in California, where he helped to create a solar division for an electrical contractor. His impressive expertise in the field, along with his passion, brought the company to a whole new level.

The new salesman convinced the company that education is critical in helping people adapt to solar. Gardner starts every phone call to a prospective client with a lesson about solar power. Brown also gives numerous presentations on the subject and participates in speaking events.

“Solar power for a building is a concept sell and requires education, because it is one part technology, one part an investment and one part a construction project,” Gardner said. “It is new to most people and it is incumbent upon us to educate our potential clients to get them comfortable with a new source of power for their business.”

As Gardner and Brown helped propel the company forward, gaining more clients and educating the masses on the importance of solar power, The Energy Savings Store garnered the attention of Adam Blake, a 2003 Rockhurst High School graduate and CEO of Atlas Properties, based out of Forth Worth, Texas.

Atlas bought The Energy Savings Store in the fall of 2010, making Blake the CEO. He restructured and rebranded the company to Brightergy, focusing solely on solar energy. Brown became the vice president of business development and Gardner became the vice president of sales.

An Array of Arrays

In 2011, Brightergy embarked on several major projects, keeping all three executives on their toes.

Convincing businesses to make the solar switch was getting easier, Brown said, because of federal and utility incentives creating an attractive return on investment. Additionally, since nonprofit organizations benefit from solar energy installations, but do not qualify for the same incentives, Brightergy began offering an innovative financing plan, which allows nonprofits to forgo upfront costs normally associated with alternative energy.

After incentives are applied, Brightergy funds the project, charging customers monthly payments.

In May 2011, the company installed more than 200 solar panels at Blake’s alma mater, Rockhurst High School, using Kansas City Power & Light’s $2-a-watt rebate.

In the fall, they worked with KCP&L to build one of Kansas City’s largest single solar arrays at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts.

Using the nonprofit agreement, the company installed six 25-kilowatt systems on the rooftops of the John Knox Village retirement community in Lee’s Summit earlier this year.

Most recently, the company has been making waves outside the Kansas City area, opening an office in Boston, the company’s third.

Earlier this summer, Brightergy inked a deal to outfit 33 buildings of the Parkway School District near St. Louis with solar panels.

Brown said the demand for solar power has dramatically increased in the past few years, which is why she believes Brightergy has been bustling with projects.

Not only have federal and state incentives made going green more feasible, she said, but the price of solar panels has plummeted, which is why companies such as JE Dunn Construction, The Roasterie and Fujifilm became clients this year.

Plus, she adds, using solar energy saves homeowners and business owners more money in the long run.

“In the old days, solar energy was mainly just for people who were passionate about being green,” Brown said. “It was something personal. Now it’s a good financial investment.”

The Challenge of Rapid Growth

But success doesn’t come without its difficulties.

The company has added 30 new employees in the past year to meet the needs of the business. And after moving to the Crossroads District in Kansas City this past spring, they’ve promised to hire more.

Keeping up with the company’s pace and the public’s demand has been a learning experience for
the employees.

“Rapid growth has been our biggest challenge,” Brown said. “It has been difficult keeping everyone on the same page, such as keeping accounting and operations aligned. But we’re lucky enough to have people who are fantastic and work hard.”

Brown added that the reason Brightergy has been doing so well under the circumstances is because its employees and clientele genuinely care about solar energy.

To stay afloat in this rapidly growing business, she said, passion for the industry is a definite must.

Gardner agrees. He’s excited about the future of solar energy, because he sees more and more companies recognizing it as a realistic alternative. Not only does it help the environment, he points out, but it uses natural resources humans have previously taken for granted.

“The amount of sunlight that hits the Earth’s surface in one hour is enough to power the entire world for a year,” Gardner said. “It just makes sense to harness the virtually limitless supply of energy—after all, the sun is the source of all energy on earth. I am a pragmatist and believe that solar will be the winner in the alternative energy space race.”

He’s willing to work extra hard to make sure Brightergy makes that happen.

“Our overarching goal is to provide solutions that make solar affordable and provide a quality product,” he said. “If we continue to do that, then our internal growth goals will take care of themselves.”