A “Shining” Example of American Innovation

On December 8th, the President hosted first board meeting of the Startup America Partnership at the White House. The Startup America Partnership is a nonprofit alliance of entrepreneurs, major corporations, and service providers committing private-sector resources to accelerate the growth of new companies. The Partnership, led by iconic entrepreneurs like Steve Case (AOL) and Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), was launched earlier this year in response to the President’s call to action to dramatically increase the success of America’s high-growth entrepreneurs. New startup businesses create most of the net new jobs each year, in every industry and all across the country.

Startup America Partnership Board Member Lynn Jurich, President and Co-Founder of Sunrun Inc., reflects on her experience as an entrepreneur:

On December 8th I was honored to attend a meeting with President Obama and fellow members of the Founding Board of the Startup American Partnership.  Aligned with Obama’s Startup America initiative, the Startup America Partnership’s mission is to help entrepreneurs start and scale their companies to accelerate job growth in the U.S.  I have vivid memories of what it’s like to be in the early stages of starting a company and value the opportunity to help other entrepreneurs succeed through my participation on the Board.  Also, as a woman entrepreneur in an industry where most executives and founders are males, I welcome the opportunity to mentor other females.  Successful women entrepreneurs are still less common in the business world and I hope my work at SunRun serves as an inspiring and educational example.

My entrepreneurial story is rooted in a quest to shake up the energy industry: SunRun co-founder Edward Fenster and I invented a way for Americans to go solar without spending $30,000 or more on panels.  SunRun owns, installs and maintains the panels and homeowners make low, fixed monthly payments for clean energy.  In California this solar power service concept is becoming the most popular way to go solar – about 60 percent of families choose this option over purchasing a system for cash.  This model didn’t even exist before 2007 so it’s exciting for me to see the success we’ve achieved in such a short time.   For example, our partner network now employs over 3,000 workers across ten states and SunRun invested over $200 million in labor this year. 

Energy attracted me immediately because I have a passion for solving messy problems.  Our current energy infrastructure is antiquated – if Thomas Edison came back today he’d understand how it works – and to revamp it we need clean, scalable, and safe solutions that are also affordable.  And to get solar in the hands of more Americans we must make it a smart financial decision.  I call this Pocketbook Environmentalism; A Pocketbook Environmentalist goes green primarily because it makes good financial sense, but likes the fact that their purchase benefits the environment. 

Americans shouldn’t have to compromise to go green, especially in this economy.  Green consumer products can only become mainstream if businesses make the right environmental choice a financial no-brainer, and that is SunRun’s focus.  This concept of making your service or product financially appealing to a target audience is often what will make or break an aspiring entrepreneur.

So far our approach has paid off: SunRun installs over $1.5 million in solar every day.  We added 80 employees at our San Francisco headquarters this year and our partner network across ten states is 3,000-strong and growing.  Solar power service is also helping extend solar to more median income zip codes.  Two-thirds of solar projects in California are in zip codes with median incomes of less than $85K.  In New Jersey the statistics are even stronger: about 75% of projects in zip codes with median annual incomes of less than $84K.  Demand for solar panels is also coming from a more economically and politically diverse range of cities.  For every family in liberal San Francisco that went solar with SunRun in 2010, nearly eight families in more conservative Fresno made the switch. 

Innovation in America helps us build new industries to boost the economy, and I’m excited to further this effort in 2012 with the Startup America Partnership.

Avra Siegel is the Deputy Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls.

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