UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog

Reflections on the Energy Club’s First West Coast Career Trek

April 30, 2013 By Tracy Triggs-Matthews

Guest post by Audrey Boguchwal, Christine Primmer and Jennifer Williams, MBA ‘14

What do a waste-water treatment plant, a high-performance vehicle with a stark resemblance to a Lotus roadster, a solar panel financier, a Sonoma county vineyard and a group of 8 UNC Kenan-Flagler students have in common?  A passion for finding new and innovative solutions to energy challenges, and a sense of adventure.


Kenan-Flagler MBA students on West Coast Trek

Kenan-Flagler MBA students on West Coast Trek

Now that our first year is almost over, it’s time to reflect on some of the experiences that stand out. One of these experiences was the UNC Energy Club’s San Francisco Bay Area Career Trek. As many Kenan-Flagler students wrapped up holiday travel in early January, the UNC Energy Club embarked on our first West Coast trek. Our experience offered an inside view of emerging energy technology, providing internship and job leads for some students and opening doors to new academic interest areas for others.


Part of the fascination of the Kenan-Flagler coursework, is the diversity of firms one has the opportunity to examine as a student of business.  The Energy Club carried forward this theme into our trek by visiting companies in a range of their growth stages: from a minimalist office floor full of energetic passion to fully developed office and showroom, the UNC Kenan-Flagler Energy Club saw the full spectrum of early-stage companies: start-ups, high growth, to post-IPO.


Bloom http://www.bloomenergy.com/

Kenan-Flagler Energy Club students at Bloom Energy

Kenan-Flagler Energy Club students at Bloom Energy


Bloom Energy is a science company at its core. Its engineers have developed an innovative technology that can generate power on site and reduce dependency on the grid. The proprietary technology is clean, quiet and efficient, which makes it an excellent candidate for many businesses. We learned about:

  • The importance of scientific knowledge, even in a business role. Bloom’s sales and finance teams all had deep backgrounds in engineering and were able to speak intelligently about the technology their company stood for.

West County Wastewater Treatment Facility http://www.wcwd.org/

It was quite a sight: MBAs in suits roaming around a wastewater treatment facility.

Energy and Wastewater Treatment

Energy and Wastewater Treatment

Someone driving by may have thought they stepped into an episode of the twilight zone.  A wastewater treatment plant may seem like an unusual stop on an Energy Club Career Trek, but the plant, which treats wastewater from the Richmond area outside of Oakland, proved to be a great opportunity for us to witness renewable energy in action. The plant is powered by one of the largest solar arrays in North America and is a model of efficiency. We learned about:

  • The wastewater treatment process and how its consistent power demand and long term budgeting makes it uniquely suited to leveraging the power of solar.
  • How a man with a plan and a passion for innovative energy can help create some of the largest and most impressive solutions of the time.
  • The ways in which the plant is educating the community about waste responsibility and alternative energy sources.


Clean Power Finance http://www.cleanpowerfinance.com/


Tom Harvey, UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA ‘03, is now the Vice President of Residential Sales at Clean Power Finance, an online marketplace connecting investors with energy projects.  We learned about being an innovator amongst innovators in solar financing, as Clean Power Finance aims to create a “marketplace” for solar investors and residential customers that captures all of the benefits of this model, mitigating risks seen by other players in the space as they do so.


Sungevity http://www.sungevity.com/


At Sungevity, a start-up B Corp with roughly 300 employees that finances and subcontracts residential solar electricity installations, we had the unique opportunity to meet with many members of senior leadership. Dave Dunlap (COO), Martha Belcher (Vice President of Customer Care), Susan Hollingshead (Director of People) and Mac Irvin (CFO) each shared experience from both a personal and professional perspective. Some highlights include:

  • Know your accounting fundamentals and language inside and out. Whatever your field, a solid accounting foundation allows leaders to understand key drivers of profitability and participate in key project finance decisions.
  • As an intern, don’t be afraid to ask your team what the company’s biggest challenges and weaknesses are, as long as you frame your interest in a positive light and are committed to working toward solutions. Tackling the big questions is sometimes easiest from an outside perspective.


Mosaic https://joinmosaic.com/

Floor 3  you say?  As the elevator doors opened to an open-concept office space with a few desks, we weren’t sure that we had the right space.   And then the smiling face of our contact, Lisa Curtis,  greeted us, and we were ushered to a small conference room with whiteboards filled with ideas.  We had arrived at Mosaic, a budding company bringing the crowd-sourcing concept to the solar industry.  Brimming with excitement about a product launch scheduled to take place the following Monday, Lisa walked us through their site design and the mission-driven concept behind the company’s purpose.


Tesla http://www.teslamotors.com/

Tesla Motors is famed for creating the first premium electric car with long range

UNC Kenan-Flagler Energy Club students and Tesla

UNC Kenan-Flagler Energy Club students and Tesla

capabilities. The company seeks wide-spread acceptance of electric cars in America. The Class of 2014 studied Tesla as part of our marketing class, so it was extremely exciting to visit the offices in person. The highlights:

  • Experiencing the hustle and bustle of Tesla’s immense, open plan offices. The environment fosters collaboration, creativity and produces great ideas.
  • Hearing about the famed leadership style of Elon Musk, founder of Paypal, and how he sought to revolutionize the pained automotive industry by making a superior car with maximum performance and minimum environmental impact.
    • Getting to take our picture in a real Tesla X roadster. Try getting out of one of those things!

Silver Spring Networks http://www.silverspringnet.com/

Silver Spring Networks creates the technologies that modernize our electric grid. From smart meters that track home electricity usage to load control devices, Silver Spring helps integrate renewable and traditional energy to bring efficiency to the masses.   At Silver Spring’s offices, we learned:

  • How lowering overall energy consumption can reduce the need for more power plants and save consumers and businesses money.
  • The importance of digital technology in solutions for the modern consumer

We can’t wait to see the club’s membership, brand, and trek opportunities grow next year and beyond.  Moreover, we are thrilled to see developments for these companies, like Silver Springs Networks IPO a few weeks ago, or Mosaic’s feature on Bloomberg Live.  As these companies grow, we feel lucky to have captured a glimpse of their journey, all at very different stages.


We rounded out the trip with a Saturday trek through the Sonoma wine region to Anaba Wines, a wind-powered winery. Many of California’s wineries have turned to renewable energy to green their operations and keep costs down. Read more about Anaba here: http://www.anabawines.com/


Special thank you’s are due to:

  • Center for Sustainable Enterprise
  • Kenan-Flagler Energy Club leadership
  • Kenan-Flagler MBASA
  • Kenan-Flagler Bay Area Alumni
  • All of our company hosts