While some entrepreneurs saw disaster during the recession, Michael Schlierf saw opportunity.
He left his job of 29 years at Intel, working in the “great cubeland of corporate USA” to follow his passion: green energy alternatives.
For the past seven months he has been working with a company called Solargreen and has been the driving force for sustainable energy alternatives in Colorado Springs.
Electing not to move when Intel shuttered its Colorado Springs plant, he took his time finding the right fit.
“I had worked at Intel, and I knew I had to move if I was going to stay with them,” he said. “But I was of two minds. One of them was, ‘I’ve been here 29 years. I can’t throw that away.’ The other was, ‘I’ve been here 29 years; it’s time to try something on my own.’”
Solargreen works to find green solutions, such as solar panels or more efficient lighting, to lower business energy costs.
“Companies can reduce costs and reduce their carbon footprint,” he said. “We want to help the nation seek energy independence.”
The company has done some work in Monument and in Denver, and is working on expanding its presence in the Springs.
One recent project involved installing energy efficient lighting in elementary schools.
“It’s a special tube that will bring daylight into classrooms,” Schlierf said. “It’s important, because not only does it save money, but research shows people are more productive and attentive if they work in natural sources of light.”
Schlierf knew that launching Solargreen in the Springs would be challenging — and much different form his work at Intel.
He’s still working to find clients, but the key to success, he says, “is to make the recession work for you.”
“Save your life by following your passion,” he said. “Losing a job in this recession can actually be a great opportunity. And in this field — renewable energy is growing like crazy.”
The work is a little more difficult in the Springs than it would be in Denver or Boulder, he said, because Colorado Springs Utilities doesn’t offer the same type of incentives given by energy giant Excel.
“So you have to work with people, let them know how they will save money in the short term,” he said. “They want the return on their investment to be quick. We are working to develop a business model that promotes sustainable energy. We’re looking at brew pubs, for example. They produce lots of hot water and they are good at providing renewable sources of energy — as well as being more open to using solar arrays to heat that water. Rec centers also are something we’re targeting, heating the water for the pools.”
Eric Cefus, director of the Catamount Institute, said he believes that government incentives for businesses will help make Solargreen successful. And that makes it the stand-out company among other green start-ups.
“There are so many green start-ups out there, brand-new companies, but they don’t know how to get where they need to be,” he said. “They just are promoting ‘green’ because it’s the latest buzzword. But Solargreen has the business experience to make a difference and to be successful.”
Still in its early stages, Schlierf knows his business has to grow quickly.
“Don’t offer a product,” he said. “Anyone can do that — offer solutions. How well you do depends on how well you drive the business.”