When tech executive Bill Nussey, who was CEO of Silverpop when it was acquired by IBM, left the tech giant in 2014 to become a renewable energy pioneer, his exact plans were slightly nebulous. He had the conviction that renewable energy would be the “next big thing” in business and knew he needed to learn more, but didn’t have a company or specific product in mind.
His plans solidified a few years later, after he traveled the world learning about the energy industry and alternative sources. In 2017, he shared his vision for a new movement called Freeing Energy, along with plans for a book of the same name, on the stage at TEDxPeachtree.
About a year later, though, Nussey had been captured by what so often grabs ahold of lifelong entrepreneurs: a new startup.
“I was not looking to get into a startup — I wanted to finish the book,” Nussey tells Hypepotamus. “But this idea was so compelling, it could literally change the entire solar industry at large.”
Nussey is referring to the idea behind Solar Inventions, a year-old startup he co-founded with Dr. Ben Damiani, a pioneer in the solar industry, and Gregg Freishtat, a serial entrepreneur who has founded five venture-backed startups and exited four. The company spun out of conversations between Nussey and Damiani on improving the process of manufacturing solar cells.
Nussey first met Damiani during the research phase of his Freeing Energy book. A Georgia Tech electrical engineering Ph.D., Damiani was an early scientist and researcher with Suniva, a now-defunct Atlanta-based solar cell manufacturer that led some of the first breakthroughs in the field.
At the time, Damiani was trying to open a new solar cell manufacturing facility in Georgia, attempting to renew an industry that has mostly moved overseas. After hearing about his breakthroughs in improving the actual manufacturing process, Nussey knew he had an entirely different business in front of him.
Damiani shut down his facility and shifted focus to commercializing that manufacturing process innovation as Solar Inventions’ Chief Scientist.
In the simplest terms, Solar Inventions’ cell, called the C3, is shifted from a single circuit to multiple electrical partitions, solving what Damiani calls the “Christmas light problem,” where if one light goes out, the rest of the string fails as well. The cell is therefore safer and more efficient when it is put into use.
The new cells are not only better, but cheaper for manufacturers to produce. And they work with all existing manufacturers’ equipment, so the upgrades can be put into practice immediately.
“Everyone has components of the recipe — like the soy sauce, the seaweed, the rice,” says Nussey, who has taken on the startup’s CEO role. “We know how to take all of those things and we make sushi.”
The team has privately funded the company thus far, but this month won a $50,000 cash prize as a semi-finalist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s American-Made Solar competition. They have the opportunity to win hundreds of thousands more as the competition progresses this summer.
Solar Inventions is currently in talks with several manufacturers about beginning a pilot of their process. Nussey predicts that the first cells will be manufactured this year.
The team’s plan is for the startup to continue to release new innovations across the electricity industry.