This post is a bit late because the event has already happened (almost a month ago now), but it was my first time on a panel like this and I have been thinking through what happened quite a bit since then. For background, the event was hosted by the Clinton School of Public Service and the panel was moderated by the Arkansas Energy Office’s own J.D. Lowery. The official announcement was:
“Solar Energy Opportunities in the U.S. ” Panel
Wednesday, February 22, 2012 at 12:00 p.m. (Sturgis Hall)
-This is a panel discussion about the current economic implications and future of solar energy in the U.S. and the South featuring John Smirnow, Vice President of Trade and Competiveness for Solar Energy Industries Association; Joe Thomas, CEO and President of MAGE Solar USA; Douglas Hutching CEO of Silicon Solar Solutions based in Rogers, Ark.
The first thing that jumped out at me was that I would be sitting at the table with some very intelligent people who were doing great things. John Smirnow is the VP of Trade and Competitiveness for the 1,100 member SEIA and Joe Thomas is the CEO/President of MAGE Solar USA who has ~160 employees and does $360M in revenue (in 2010). I realized the fact that Silicon Solar Solutions was even let through the front door means that we must be doing something right!
I always enjoy observing people and being at the front of the room gives you a good view to see how people are reacting to what is being said. I was impressed by the number of people who showed up for the panel and equally impressed by how much attention they actually paid to what was being said (the questions were evidence of that). It is incredibly easy as scientists/researchers/engineers (which is my background) to keep your head down as you completely focus on overcoming that next technology related hurdle. As we talked through the eventual possibilities of solar manufacturing in Arkansas (and potentially using our TAIC technology), it was evident how many people would be in support of this vision. This is something completely invisible from the lab/office environment where we spend most of our time.
We met some great people through the event and if you happened to be one of the people in attendance, what did you think?
The road to getting any technology to the point of being ready for market is filled with a lot of small victories. As you know (or maybe you do not), our technology can create a very high quality seed layer for growing other things on top. The most common application is using our large grain silicon for growing epitaxial silicon on top. One of the challenges of this approach is that our material must survive all the necessary cleaning/handling procedures that the future steps necessitate. In that line of thinking, I just wanted to share a video that demonstrates our film handling the cleaning process like a champ!
What is happening in this video is that our researchers (can you guess which one?) are taking a one of our samples that has grown a native oxide film that needs to be removed and applying some Buffered Oxide Etch (BOE) which just so happens to etch away oxide. You can see that initially the BOE “sticks” to the sample due to the presence of oxide on the surface. After a very short while, however, the oxide is etched away revealing the hydrophobic silicon underneath. This makes the BOE slide right off the surface, and additional water that is added also slides right off with zero damage to the film. Chalk another small victory up for the good guys!
Culture is important in any startup. Culture sets the tone for everyone involved and it helps to keep everyone moving together as a team. There are lots of famous examples which include Apple and Southwest Airlines. Each of these companies demonstrate that their specific company culture gives them an edge. How does this translate to a small startup? Steve Blank describes a starup as a temporary organization looking for a scalable business model. It is during this search that the culture must be realized and nurtured, otherwise it is too late as everyone scrambles to scale.
Silicon Solar Solutions has a great group of folks that I am delighted to work with on a daily basis (even including weekends!). Together we have formed our own culture which includes a great deal of coffee, naps on the floor at times, a lot of lunches together and regular walks around the “secret sanctuary” located behind the Arkansas Research and Technology Park. A lot happens on these walks. Some compelling insights into what we should be doing over the coming days/weeks/months occur, but it is mainly about growing together as a team. At the end of the day, the team is what will make or break a startup – so it better be strong. Mueller of the Austin Business Journal writes:
Over the years I have learned that good culture takes continued nurturing and full attention, and should begin at the company’s birth or soon after. Assess the look, feel and tone of all your physical and communication touch points. Do they reflect your values and brand? Do they cultivate the kind of workforce that will give you a competitive edge in your industry? Are your team members passionate about what they do and feel valued for their contributions?
Seth Shumate, our Senior Scientist, is the biggest proponent of these regular excursions into the wilderness (and I use the term wilderness loosely). In fact, I am pretty sure he named it the “secret sanctuary” just so this post would have the mother of all alliterations! The other day we happened across two geese enjoying life where we all stopped to unwind for a few moments and snapped this picture. A few minutes later I almost stepped on a water moccasin but that is another story entirely. What is the culture like in the place where you work?