SPI Insider: Issue 2, September 2013
Industry Leaders Recognize the Need to Assist Solar Start Up Companies
Mike Dershowitz saw a window of opportunity. PV America was not far off, and he believed the industry event would serve as a chance to gain the connections and market knowledge that he needed. Dershowitz knew he had to be there. The very fate of his company, vision, and dream depended on it. The only question was how.
At the time—that is, the first part of 2011—Dershowitz and fellow cofounder Kevin Ilsen had laid the groundwork for what they believed would be a viable company that could meet a significant need within the solar energy industry. That company, ModSolar, now stood poised for takeoff, but first there was still due diligence and homework to be done. ModSolar had put its products through a series of successful tests, but Dershowitz and Ilsen hadn’t even quit their day jobs. Before they could be sure it was time to take the leap, the founders needed to get in front of potential customers in order to interact with them and truly understand whether the need that they believed to be present in the market in fact was.
Dershowitz saw a window of opportunity. PV America was not far off, and he believed the industry event would serve as a chance to gain the connections and market knowledge that he needed. Defying the reality of the company bank account, he and fellow cofounder Kevin Ilsen scraped together the funds that ModSolar didn’t have and off they went to PV America.
The rest, as they say, is history. Dershowitz and Ilsen not only held some productive conversations, they signed on eight alpha customers. Message received, loud and clear: Time to quit the day jobs. The conference took place in April, and ModSolar officially launched in June.
“If we hadn’t had that positive experience with the tradeshow, which we couldn’t afford, we never would have known we had a product that was something the industry needed,” says Dershowitz.
Now, a couple of years later, having himself played in the sandbox of cash-strapped start-ups, Dershowitz sees another market need, but it doesn’t have to do with providing the industry with a new product. Or maybe it does.
His company, ModSolar, is no longer a start-up; it’s busy producing software and other products that attack the soft costs of solar. But he and the organizers of Solar Power International (SPI) want today’s crop of start-ups—companies that potentially could help move the solar industry forward—to have the opportunity to participate in what’s become the industry’s annual town square and marketplace of ideas and innovation.
The answer to the need: Start-Up Alley, a special section of Solar Power International’s expansive exhibition that will showcase up to 30 early-stage companies and even include a competition that will shine the spotlight on the most promising ventures (more on the competitive elements of Start-Up Alley later).
Needle in a haystack
The Start-Up Alley offering provides several experience-enhancing elements, both from the point of view of the start-up companies as well as the exhibition attendees. Having all of the top start-ups concentrated in one section of the exhibition floor makes it easy for attendees to find the new companies that are at SPI—and the new ideas they bring. That, in turn, creates an audience for the companies, who—like Dershowitz back in 2011—are eager to get feedback from industry members on their wares and solutions.
“At so many major events, finding the start-up companies with the innovative ideas is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” says Dershowitz. “Start-Up Alley puts all the needles in one place.”
The resulting dynamic coming out of this first-ever offering is sure to be an electric one—that is, one characterized by engaging dialogue, excitement, and idea-driven innovation. And, adding to that spirit of innovation at the show is one more key component to the Start-Up Alley offering. Tradeshows can easily be dominated “by the companies that can most afford it,” as Dershowitz says, and that doesn’t necessarily foster innovation.
Problem solved at SPI. Start-Up Alley provides a solution to the biggest obstacle to many start-ups staking a visible spot at a premier tradeshow. The cost of exhibiting in Start-Up Alley: zero dollars. The potential return: priceless.
Or, as Dershowitz aptly puts it, “All they need is a plane ticket, some cash for Taco Bell, and someone’s couch to sleep on.”
Start-ups, claim your spot among the 30 openings now. They won’t be available forever.
Competition brightens spotlight
That’s a pretty good deal, but Start-Up Alley doesn’t stop there. Of the 30 Start-Up Alley slots available, 12 finalists will compete in the Start-Up Alley Challenge. The Challenge gives finalists the chance to pitch their business proposals to a panel of highly distinguished entrepreneurs, investors, and industry leaders—creating the opportunity for invaluable exposure and feedback. Out of those dozen finalists, a single winner will be selected.
Start-Up Alley, therefore, promises to be one of the most interactive and dynamic sections of the bustling exhibition floor. Augmenting that interactive element will be yet another dimension of the offering: Nearby the “Alley” will be a gathering space for a full schedule of educational sessions specifically geared toward the needs of the entrepreneurs participating. The new-venture companies will be able to swing by the sessions to access invaluable information on such topics as intellectual property, getting a business started, and tips for networking and getting in front of a desired audience. Those opportunities could prove invaluable, given that one of the biggest challenges for any exhibitor—let alone a start-up—is to be able to find the time to leave the tradeshow floor and travel over to the session area to take advantage of education and information offerings.
Experts Advocate for Smart Decision Making by Providing Fresh, Data-Driven Insights into the Solar Industy
Solar Industry Trends is presented by SEPA, SEIA, Greentech Media, and IREC
When you go to a large conference and exhibition, you’ve got a choice from day to day and moment to moment that easily can cause conflict: soak up some knowledge at an educational session, or head over to the exhibition to see what wares are being offered, network with industry colleagues, and take in the show. Exhibitors, meanwhile, don’t even have that choice. They need to stick to the show floor, as near to their booths as possible. Making their way over to the sessions often isn’t even an option.
That’s the scenario at most such events. But not all. Not Solar Power International (SPI), anyway. Making good on its goal of creating an interactive exhibition floor that’s alive with activity, SPI 2013 will feature a brand-new offering that blends both conference and exhibition all in one spot.
SPI is doing that by tapping two organizations that possess leading expertise in their own respective niches: Greentech Media’s GTM Research, known for its top solar industry information, and the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC), tops in its work on the regulatory side of renewable energy as well as in the area of workforce development. In addition, Solar Industry Trends will feature insights on market and industry developments from the research staffs at SEIA and SEPA
Data-driven decision making
Serving as a hub of industry information right on the exhibition floor, SPI’s Solar Industry Trends booth is presented by SEPA, SEIA, Greentech Media, and IREC, and will offer a host of sessions at the booth.
“What I find when I go to a tradeshow is that you don’t always make it to the sessions,” observes Greentech Media’s Clare Ondrey, verbalizing a frustration experienced by countless tradeshow attendees in any industry. “What we’re doing is trying to fill a gap there. This really allows us to bring our information to people on the show floor.”
The information that Ondrey, Greentech Media’s director of marketing & online ops, is talking about comes at a premium under normal circumstances. But with the help of GTM Research and the Industry Trends booth, smaller companies (e.g., the installers and other such players) that otherwise would not have the resources to gain access to such invaluable industry information can get a good helping of it at SPI.
That’s right—the best industry data and analyses, all for the price of SPI admission.
“We will be constantly cycling fresh insights into how markets are developing and the issues that drive the industry during each day at Industry Trends,” says Bob Gibson, SEPA’s VP of Education and Outreach. “These short, informal and engaging sessions are a great way to pick up information you can use from a variety of industry experts.”
Adding more value, as part of the booth’s constant buzz of activity, analysts—who typically speak at SPI sessions and at conferences around the world—will be present and available at the booth even during times when they are not doing one of the Industry Trends booth sessions, dialoguing with attendees about industry data and answering their questions.
The expertise of IREC
IREC, meanwhile, will share the wealth of its own industry expertise right in that same Industry Trends booth, adding to the interactive and knowledge-packed atmosphere of the space. Like IREC itself, the organization’s sessions will focus on regulatory work and workforce development.
As is the case with GTM Research, the value behind IREC’s participation is that it brings, right to the heart of the show floor, information and expertise that otherwise wouldn’t be as accessible. Case in point: It’s true that IREC’s session content for this year’s new Industry Trends booth did have another forum in previous years: It was presented as part of IREC’s annual gathering that traditionally took place the day before SPI.
That provided great value to the core group of people who flew in a day early to take in the IREC annual meeting. But the annual gathering was inevitably much smaller than SPI.
“What we’ve done is, we’ve moved that information to the booth on the show floor, and so we’re really excited to reach a broader audience than would attend the separate IREC meeting the day before,” says Larry Sherwood, vice president and COO at IREC.
IREC will present a series of seven sessions. Dubbed the IREC 3i Forum, three driving principles will be information, innovation, and inspiration—all core values of IREC itself.
Savory small plates
Sound like a lot? It is. But perhaps the best part of the Solar Industry Trends booth is that the information comes in small bites.
Tailored to meet the needs—and the schedule—of busy attendees such as exhibitors, sessions will last an up-tempo 30 minutes, providing a “quick, deep dive” into a given topic, as Green Tech Media’s Ondrey says. The presence of this knowledge hub undoubtedly will create more of a mix of ideas, more dialogue, and more knowledge ferment.
The booth “allows people to get an overview of the market and take that right back to the show floor” where they may be exhibiting or engaging in various forms of interaction with fellow attendees, says Ondrey.
Moreover, many topics—including all seven of the IREC sessions—will be repeated so that busy exhibitors and attendees can “catch a show” that suits their schedule.
“The idea is that somebody can come for just a 30-minute session, so they can make a relatively short commitment of time,” explains Sherwood.
In the end, Solar Power International is about fostering the growth of the Solar Energy Industry. It’s about helping companies succeed, and the Industry Trends booth fits perfectly within that scheme. “Our data is something that helps people make better business decisions, says Ondrey, “and that’s what we hope to bring to SPI.”
Educational Posters make a strong showing in inaugural year
SPI has added educational posters to its slate of educational offerings and Expo hall features. The new posters program attracted more than 50 participants who will present data, best practices, research, and industry solutions to attendees.
Solar Power International’s Posters are designed to enhance the educational experience at SPI through shared industry knowledge and present an opportunity for one-on-one dialogue with subject matter experts about current research and innovations impacting solar. All Poster Presenters will participate in the Poster Reception on Wednesday, October 23 4:30 to 6 pm. Plan to join us and take the opportunity to ask questions about your favorite posters. There will also be a competition for the Best Poster, which will be announced Wednesday, October 23 at 4 pm from the Solar Central booth.
New Program Format Delivers Fast-Paced Learning
Leveraging cutting-edge solar industry leaders, Solar Power International has introduced QuickTalks as an added-value to the educational conference. These 25-minute sessions will feature a 15-minute “TED Talk” style lecture followed by a 10-minute question and answer session. These sessions highlight a specific innovation, project, or idea for a fast-punch of thought-provoking education.
“Solar Power International is leading solar education by offering comprehensive professional development in innovative ways,” says Solar Energy Trade Show Director of Education, Aimee Gabel. “SPI attendees will love the full buffet of options.” QuickTalks will take place on Tuesday, October 22 and Thursday, October 24 and include topics from all six topical tracks: Finance Solutions; Business Growth and Development; Markets & Marketing Strategies; Operations, Performance, and Maintenance; Integration with Utilities; and Policy and Regulations. By aligning the subject content of the QuickTalks and the Concurrent Sessions, attendees will maximize their professional development and networking with liked-minded professionals.