In 2015, Trico Charitable Foundation partnered with Beakerhead and to celebrate how science, engineering, art, and entrepreneurship can solve the globe’s most challenging and wicked social problems. Five amazing social enterprises were chosen to participate in the “How Doing Good in the World is Great Business” panel and The SunSaluter was one of the inspirational entrepreneurial organizations. Click here to see our 2015 spotlight on The SunSaluter.
The SunSaluter combines solar capture of energy with water purification. Here, the genius is as the water filters through the system the displaced weight enables the solar panel to move in line with the sun, maximizing energy uptake. Founded by Calgary’s Eden Full Goh, SunSaluter now has instillations in 19 countries. Eden has been honoured by the organizations like the Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, Westly Foundation and Mashable/UN Foundation’s Startups for Social Good Challenge, and is an Ashoka Young Social Entrepreneur of the Year.
Recently, we had a chance to catch up with Eden Full Goh, Founder of The SunSaluter to find out what they have been up to for the past year. Eden describes 2016 as a building year for The SunSaluter and many things that were put into motion a few years ago have finally come to life. Overall, the two major focal points Eden and her team have been concentrating on is getting their open source materials out and amplifying partnerships. In the past year, The SunSaluter now has 200 deployments in 19 different countries. Most significantly, Eden explains that they have really fleshed out the partnerships they have been building in India:
“We have actually had such a compelling partnership with one of the organizations we work with that we are relocating our entire office from Bangalore to Odisha where we will be able to have access to those communities and that partner on a more regular basis.”
It seems obvious, but Eden warns that social entrepreneurs have to be ever vigilant to make sure that what you give a partner is as valuable as what you get:
“It’s your baby, so you think your idea will be useful, but put yourself in their shoes and make sure you are getting frank feedback.”
Another considerable change for The SunSaluter in the past year is their decision making process. The direction of The SunSaluter is now being shaped by a Board of Directors:
“It’s definitely not just me running the show anymore. We now have a more cohesive decision making process.”
The SunSaluter’s Board of Directors consists of individuals that offer a wide array of skillsets that are key to the organization, from a variety of different industries, engineers, social media, open source, solar panels, fundraising, communications experts, process and measuring, and user interface designers.
All in, the process took Eden nine months.
“For me, I’m learning what it takes to set up a good team and keep them motivated. I picked the board based on people who work hard and that I could trust. To me, these individuals add more value than someone who could maybe contribute financially or have lots of connections.”
Eden adds that the other key qualities to look out for in a Board member are patience, enthusiasm and being open to learning.
One exciting ingredient of The SunSaluter’s building year is their patent finally cleared, which has been pending for many years. Eden explains her thoughts on patents:
“The first thing you should do is figure out if your thing is worth patenting in the first place by piloting and testing it. Patents are sort of a luxury and should not be step one.”
Interestingly, Eden’s key motivation to seeking her patent wasn’t to protect her idea from being stolen. She just wanted to make sure someone else didn’t swoop in and try to shut her out.
The SunSaluter also took this year to focus on evaluation of their product and did a check in with users to see how their product is doing and to gain more clarity on what makes The SunSaluter work. What Eden learned from the check-ins with users was that The SunSaluter did in fact make a very tangible difference in quality of life. One example Eden is very proud of is learning that young girls who previously were unable to read at night can now go to a library powered by The SunSaluter and read/study at night.
A key insight for Eden, and one for any entrepreneur hunting for sales, is not every customer is a good customer. She has learned to dig deeper into a customer’s motivation. Customers with a vague desire to want more electricity typically don’t do well. But customers who have experience with solar power and want to ramp that up or have a related business typically (pardon the expression) shine. These deeper conversations take time. It requires patience, but the results make it worthwhile.
Unlike most companies, The SunSaluter open sources their technology and Eden actually wants people to steal their work:
“Some people have a secret sauce that they need to keep to themselves but the SunSaluter is doing the exact opposite and we want to share our product with everyone.”
Looking to the future, Eden explains The SunSaluter’s upcoming plans:
“Our goal in the next couple of months is to roll out an online platform with instructions and visuals showing how anyone in the world can build their own SunSaluter. The alternative is if they don’t want to do that, they can instead collaborate with us and purchase a SunSaluter.”
Eden and her team are also working on developing an automatic SunSaluter. They are taking a multi-tier approach to make sure their organization is sustainable through sales revenue that runs the gamut from larger companies and licensing streams to smaller retail, donations, and a variety of strategic partnerships.
“It’s all about diversification.”
One broader trend that has caught Eden’s eye and has her optimistic about the future is media moving away from the personal journey story of the entrepreneur to the story of the organization, its mission and impact. As an example of the later, Eden points to CNBC’s spotlight on the The SunSaluter here.
“My colorful backstory is not key to what we do. It’s about our work, not the person behind it.” She beems, “I love that they didn’t mention me.”
Kudo’s from Oprah to ABC’s Shark Tank, Forbes Magazine and B-Corp; growing from 100 units a month to 10,000; hitting revenue of $5 Million; responding to over 270 disasters and humanitarian crises in over 95 countries – these social entrepreneurs have seen it all.
September 16 will be Social Entrepreneurship Day in Calgary. You will be able to check out:
A morning keynote by Michel Gelobter called “Lean Start-ups for Social Change: Insights and Perspective for Social Purpose Organizations”:
Michel is author of “Lean Startups for Social Change: The Revolutionary Path to Big Impact”. The lean startup approach has been revolutionizing businesses of all sizes for years and Michel’s book shows how lean startup can have the same transformative impact in non-profits, government, faith institutions and across the social sector.
“How Doing Good in the World is Great Business” Panel:
This candid, “how to make great ideas a reality”, lunch-hour panel discussion featuring the six social entrepreneurs and moderated by Kim Smith, Community Manager for the award-winning Capital Ideas in Calgary.
An evening pitch contest where five Calgary social ventures compete for a grand prize of $10,000:
Everyone wins as you can watch three of the Beakerhead social entrepreneurs give tips on how the local social ventures can enhance their pitches. The three Beakerhead social entrepreneurs will the transition to an “Art of the Pitch” panel discussion. The event us hosted by Calgary’s own Million Dollar prize winner of a Global Billion Dollar Idea Pitch Competition, Craig Elias.
Click here to learn more and register.