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The importance of reaching out: Chris Clark of Sunflower Solutions

, , , ,    /   May 4th, 2011Africa, East Africa, Environment, Interviews

In this series social entrepreneurs discuss the importance of reaching out. From transforming strangers into business partners to saving flooded headquarters, our contacts and future contacts routinely prove integral to every aspect of creating and running a social enterprise.

Chris Clark is the founder and president of Sunflower Solutions a company that sells solar panels that provide electricity for developing cities.

Dowser: What’s something concrete and tangible you’ve learned in the last three months?
Clark: I Graduated from college with an idea, but knew nothing about solar power or starting a business. Frankly I didn’t even know about entrepreneurship. I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today if I had not found some good help. I have a very diverse board of advisors that I meet with every two weeks, and I simply lay out all my problems and challenges with them. This allows me to have a sounding board of mature men and women that will give me feedback and make sure that I don’t do anything stupid. The turning point happened when I realized my passion for Sunflower, and what we set out to do. Very early on you have this delusion that I will do everything perfectly. Nothing is easy. You won’t make money for a really long time. I had to decide if I wanted to spend all my money in my savings account and see Sunflower grow, or I can get a real job. I decided that I wasn’t doing it for money. I knew that every one of our solar power systems that I could install meant that was another group of people that I could help have stable health care or clean water. I realized that I was doing this to help save people and communities, not to be the next Bill Gates. I wasn’t trying to be the next Bill Gates, I was trying to make a difference, and that was the real turning point for me. As a result just five months after we started in January 2009, we already had a system up in Kenya and are growing from there.

What is a mistake or mishap you’ve learned from?
I underestimated the importance of selling. My biggest strength was not being in it for the money but that was also my biggest weakness. I moved back in with my parents after six months of starting the company, which took care of the worry of a deadline that would put me out of business. Since that time we have five employees, which were drawn to the company because the technology we invented is found nowhere else in the world. The only catch was everyone had to make a living. You can’t be in your parents’ basement forever. I learned from it before it became a problem. We’ve got our first round of systems and we just need to get it out to new people.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photo courtesy of Chris Clark

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