The company’s transparency helps customers save more than 50 percent.
Within UCI Applied Innovation’s open-spaced ecosystem, passersby might notice a tall man with a thick, dark beard proudly talking a mix of business jargon and motivational speak to his army of interns throughout the Cove’s shared workspace. Or he might be excitedly spouting off his next big idea, drawing charts and graphs on various unsuspecting whiteboards for fellow startup teams and Cove tenants–in sandals and boardshorts, of course.
This man is Ali Sina, CEO of startup InSolar, a company that connects solar shoppers with high quality solar panels, installers and lenders for up to 50 percent below market price. For the past 13 years, the passionate entrepreneur has had many interests, but landed specifically on renewable energy.
“With InSolar, you are getting 320 Watt LG or Sunpower panels with Enphase Microinverters, wrap-around skirt, Pegasus Mounting, monitoring, warranties …the whole nine,” said Sina. “The goal is if someone has the intention of going green, then it should be as simple as pushing the start button on your car. It’s not a big decision, it’s just a smart decision.”
Sixty percent of solar power is produced by a small number of very large projects owned by power companies, according to a 2018 PBS news article “The state if the U.S. solar industry: 5 questions answered.” The remaining projects are primarily small-scale, like rooftop installations. California currently occupies nearly half of all U.S. solar electricity generating capacity.
InSolar joined UCI Applied Innovation’s Wayfinder program in September 2017 where the team has utilized the shared workspace and networking opportunities. Already up and semi-running, InSolar has two revenue streams. These include their affiliated partnerships with sales staff and their recently re-launched website.
“The website is more like a self-serve for consumers who want more information about solar,” said Sergio Cardenas, InSolar Chief Technical Officer. “We are in the early phases and, based on what we are learning about our customers, will apply our proprietary technology to our customer base.”
Cardenas and Sina emphasize the solar industry’s lack of transparency, where customers will often incur “soft cost”-style fees, or fees associated with pre- and post-construction expenses, with most solar installation companies. These fees are often geared toward a company’s marketing and sales efforts, however InSolar does not include marketing and sales costs in their business model.
With InSolar, the team aims to streamline the solar purchase procedure by helping consumers find and vet solar installers while offering complete transparency with pricing and process. Sina cites that solar prices have plummeted 70 percent since 2010, but soft costs have increased as sales and marketing account for 67 percent of the total cost of a solar installation. Sina says soft costs are an increasing pain point in a growing market—a point that InSolar continues to address. As opposed to the standard homeowner average of a nine-year payback for solar panels, Sina cites his company decreases the payback period to three-to-four years.
“This idea was in my head for three years,” said Sina. “At some point, I just said I’m going to do it because nobody else is doing it. By eliminating those extra costs, it’s a no-brainer.”
In September 2018, InSolar applied for The Department of Energy’s American-Made Solar Prize, a $3 million prize competition designed to revitalize U.S. solar manufacturing through a series of contests and rapid development of innovative solar solutions. And, while they wait to hear from the Department of Energy, they plan to continue to grow their client base and make the company a profitable business while expanding staff.
“As an entrepreneur, if you have a fantastic idea, you’ve got to be really multi-faceted, creative…you’ve got to figure things out, you’ve got to be tough skinned,” said Sina. “You’ve got to understand that it’s a very long game. Sit tight, nothing comes fast.”
For more information on InSolar, click here.