Company: Solar Universe
In 2007, after several years as a Quiznos franchisee in the Bay Area, Joe Bono thought back to his middle school science class. He remembered learning about satellites and how they were completely powered by solar cells. It seemed inevitable that by the time he grew up, everything would be powered by the sun.
“It was 20 years later, and I realized solar had hardly penetrated the market,” Bono says. Yet cheaper solar panels, tax credits and a push for energy conservation had primed the market. All that was needed was a reliable service company to get the panels on garage roofs across the country. So in 2008, after selling his sandwich shops, Bono launched Solar Universe, a solar panel installation franchise headquartered in Livermore, Calif.
Franchisees help their clients work through the maze of state and federal rebates and tax credits, as well as utility company regulations, before erecting a solar array on the roof. For most customers, a 5-kilowatt system is big enough to keep the internet and the microwave humming and usually pays for itself in about eight years. In 2011, the company is introducing solar thermal for hot water heating, and energy efficiency consulting. It’s already launched the BriteLease rental program, which allows even more people to catch rays.
Solar Universe’s 24 franchises are spinning electric meters backward in California, Illinois, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Louisiana and New Jersey, and Bono thinks he can double his units by the end of the year. A $7-million cash infusion by RockPort Capital Partners earlier this year has also juiced the company. We talked with Bono about his sky-high plans for Solar Universe.