2023 Most Disruptive MBA Startups: Renew Solar, UC-San Diego (Rady)

Renew Solar

University of California San Diego’s Rady School of Management

Website Link: renewsolar.io

Industry: Solar

Founding Student Name(s): Heather Hardenberg

Brief Description of Solution: Renew Solar facilitates a network that revolutionizes solar panel end-of-term (EOT) management. Through our partnerships across the country, Renew Solar is creating a viable circular panel program that is cost-effective, efficient, and supportive of everyone in the photo-voltaic (PV) recycling industry. Renew Solar connects every solar panel recycling ecosystem stakeholder, integrating logistics, PV manufacturers, decommissioners, refurbishers, and recyclers to facilitate the flow of solar modules into appropriate recycling streams or reuse applications. Renew Solar applies the network effect to closing the loop on the sustainability of solar power and expanding access to clean energy.

Funding Dollars: Bootstrapping at present.

What led you to launch this venture? Impassioned by my love for the environment and a vision of a sustainable future, I secured my B.S. in Environmental Engineering at UC San Diego and moved through several positions. As my career progressed, I moved from environmental consulting in the private industry to Energy Manager at Naval Base Coronado with the Department of Defense. The last position I held before launching Renew Solar was as Project Manager for utility-scale solar projects. These positions inspired me to take my idea to the capstone venture course at the UC San Diego Rady School of Management with the goal to not only close the loop on the sustainability of solar power, but also, expand access to clean energy to all people regardless of socio-economic background. My vision is to connect prematurely retired solar panels to those in need of sustainable and affordable power generation while simultaneously removing tons of waste from landfills.

What has been your biggest accomplishment so far with venture? Our biggest accomplishment has been intricately knitting with key stakeholders, keeping a finger on the pulse of the solar industry while staying the course, driven by our mission to be of service. The idea for Renew Solar came to me in a vision over two years ago, and it became clear that I was going to create a more equitable solar landscape while ensuring sustainability in the solar industry through reuse and recycling. Since then, we have stayed nimble and agile, adapting our business model to the changing and novel industry within solar end-of-term management. Having approached every milestone of this venture with a learner’s mindset, we have been able to receive direct feedback from the solar industry that continues to shape our offerings. This adaptability has been crucial in addressing unexpected obstacles and making course corrections when initial strategies don’t yield the desired results. Renew Solar is a testament to our commitment to problem-solving, resilience, and community action while navigating the ever-evolving renewable energy landscape.

What has been the most significant challenge you’ve faced in creating your company and how did you solve it? Creating a team. Isn’t that just the duality of life, our greatest strengths are sometimes our greatest challenges. From classmates to friends to strangers, there have been many a helping hand on this venture, but longevity and cohesiveness has been a challenge. Solving this riddle was made possible by having clear roles and responsibilities. This can prove difficult on teams when egos and emotions are involved. What made us successful were the clear and empathic conversations we had. Here, we worked to truly establish and understand each person’s drivers (i.e. the dreams that keep us awake at night, the mouths to provide for, etc.) and each individual’s greatest talents and passions. Once these were established, it was obvious what roles we were meant to play and it expanded on the respect we had for each other as we pushed forward with responsibilities specific to our strong suits.

How has your MBA program helped you further this startup venture? Network of connections. These range from Rady grads to the professors and leaders of the Sullivan Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

What founder or entrepreneur inspired you to start your own entrepreneurial journey? How did he or she prove motivational to you? Ryan Shortill, founder of Positive Adventures and Dad’s Organization. Ambition, paired with a striking ability to challenge the status quo, are core ingredients of an entrepreneur. Ryan not only models these foundational behaviors, but he also emphasizes service and give back as key components in his businesses.

As entrepreneurs and shapers of the future, we have a responsibility to the natural world and to the people whom we share this place we call home. An entrepreneur’s success is measured not by the amount of money in his bank, but by the positive impact one can make on the community. I honor Ryan as a life-changer and supporter of humanity! Driven by his passion to serve people in a greater way and make a bigger impact in the world, his humble beginning was volunteering with many non-profits and charities. He has since dedicated his life to helping communities, organizations, teams, and individuals realize their highest true potential. Ryan has inspired me to combine my expertise, insights, and purpose-driven techniques to tactfully lead a life of service. Success is not just about making money, it’s about making a difference. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”

 Which MBA class has been most valuable in building your startup and what was the biggest lesson you gained from it? Rady’s capstone course (formerly named Lab to Market) was the most valuable class in building this startup. It taught me that every good idea needs to be grounded in a well-oiled business plan. I walked away from this class with a crash course in business basics. The biggest lesson I gained from this course is that the health, connectivity, and communication of a team are paramount to ensure success of any solution. Business is a collective effort. Teamwork plays a critical role in achieving common goals and making a meaningful impact. Teamwork literally makes the dream work.

What professor made a significant contribution to your plans and why? Amy Nguyen-Chyung. This woman single-handedly gave me the striking material to make a spark with the flint that was coming forward as Renew Solar. I so vividly remember emailing Amy a pitch deck for this solution days before team selection for Lab to Market was to be finalized. Where I thought I’d be met with “No,” I was instead met with enthusiasm and eager support as, unbeknownst to me, Amy had done research in solar and was inextricably tied to the renewable energy mission. It was from Amy’s weekly check-ins, expansive network, sage advice, and uncanny ability for creative solutioning that Renew Solar got its launch. I am forever grateful.

How has your local startup ecosystem contributed to your venture’s development and success? The Rady community, my MBA and StartR cohorts, and the familial people of the Sullivan Center have been crucial to my development and success. From inspiring talks to sharing of lessons learned to transparent conversations with established CEOs, the talents, abilities, stories, and hearts of my entrepreneurial community have only inspired and shaped all the ways in which I operate. I’ve been able to navigate challenges, make informed decisions, and avoid pitfalls due to this startup community. This network has held me accountable to stepping into my highest self; with a vision and mission so grand, nothing less than my best could keep this ship sailing.

What is your long-term goal with your startup? The long-term goal is to be a well-established Public Benefit Corporation offering a SaaS platform to solar stakeholders within end-of-term (EOT) management. We aim to funnel 95% of EOL solar panels to recycling (saving these panels from landfill). We are dedicated to creating a distributed “smart logistics network” for a win-win collaboration among PV manufacturers, collectors, haulers, and recyclers. I want Renew Solar to scale to then manage the transport of batteries and other recycling streams over time. We will continue improving the solar industry’s circularity and lessen our dependence on fossil fuels.


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