How a Renewables Entrepreneur Learned to Treat Potential Customers as Co-Developers

How a Renewables Entrepreneur Learned to Treat Potential Customers as Co-Developers

Jenny Marquez is the project manager at ARC (Advanced Renewable Concept Industries Inc.). ARC’s mission as a B Corporation is “to convert our planet’s power systems to 100 percent renewable energy.” Jenny assumed that universities would leap at the chance to acquire ARC’s first product: a compact, efficient, bird-friendly wind turbine called The Orb. After all, many universities host entire educational and research programs in environmental studies, and most have pledged to model best sustainable practices. 

 

Then Jenny and ARC’s founder and CEO Rob Monteith joined the 2021 Berkshire Sustainability Challenge. One of the competition’s chief requirements is that candidates complete at least 20 customer interviews. “Those cold calls were tough work,” recalls Jenny. “Many people either don’t answer their phones, since they don’t know who is calling, or are hesitant to talk to you because they think a sales pitch is coming. I was extremely grateful to those who took the time to listen and answer some questions.” She discovered that while universities were deeply interested in adopting sustainable technologies, they couldn’t move quickly enough for a start-up to survive while waiting for that first contract. 

 

A year away from their first Orb prototype, and much better informed, the ARC team rewrote their marketing plan. Since 40 percent of global greenhouse gas comes from the built environment, and since businesses will move quickly into new technologies that save costs, ARC decided to focus on industrial and commercial buildings. “So we took that  ‘negative feedback’ from our expected market and turned it into a learning lesson,” says Jenny. 

 

Like many sustainability entrepreneurs, Jenny arrived at ARC along unexpected paths. Raised in Pomona, CA, to Honduran immigrant parents, she attended Worcester Polytechnic Institute to earn a degree in mechanical engineering and was the first in her family to complete a college degree. To fulfill the terms of her ROTC scholarship, Jenny entered the Army upon graduation. An initial posting in South Korea led to seven years of worldwide active duty, during which she earned a master’s in management and leadership. “While I’d enjoyed lots of opportunities to grow and learn in the Army, by then I was also married and had two children and decided it was time to start a new adventure. But every lesson I learned in the Army I still carry with me today.”

 

The family returned to the States where Jenny’s husband, Jeffrey Corado, became COO and co-founder of ARC Industries. Jeffrey encouraged Jenny to start on as their Project manager when the company transitioned from a non-profit to a Benefit Corporation. Her work involves securing grant funding, organizing ARC’s participation in business accelerators and challenges, and working with potential project partners. That led to BSC, which selected ARC as one of a handful of finalists.

 

Jenny says the BSC experience taught ARC how to be a company. “Being in a startup is like being in open water. You don’t know what you don’t know until someone points it out. That’s where mentors like BSC coordinator Elizabeth Nelson and Jeffrey Thomas who leads BSC’s sponsor, the Massachusetts Founders Network came in. “They both did an amazing job of getting us to truly understand our business model,” says Jenny, “and then communicate our ideas in ways that move investors and clients.”

 

While ARC didn’t win the competition, the months-long program was so helpful that winning seemed nearly incidental. “The most valuable thing we gained from BSC was the terrific feedback and suggestions from the BSC judges and mentors, and now we’re working to find pilot-project partners with that feedback still in mind ” Having seen strong interest from homeowners and some businesses, ARC continues to refine the Orb with input from these prospective customers.

 

The company is also planning broader, long-term moves. “We’re a renewable concepts company,” explains Jenny. “While the Orb is our first product, we have many more ideas we hope eventually to bring to market.”

 

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