Imagine solar energy being a mainstream energy source, as common as running water, with solar panels readily installed on every home in your neighborhood. That was the dream and mission that started FLS Energy, a solar energy company based in Asheville, North Carolina.
Founding partners Michael Shore, Dale Freudenberger, and Hardy LeGwin first brainstormed the idea while volunteering, working on the expansion of a school roof. Dale had gotten out of a previous construction business and was wondering what to do next. He considered several ideas before finally suggesting a solar energy company – and after 6 months of discussion, the three got serious.
FLS Energy opened its doors in 2006 based on the core values of integrity, craftsmanship, professionalism and service. They first contacted the SBTDC in 2009 with a request to gain access to the GSA contracting schedules and a desire to expand into government procurement.
“We have a contract at Camp Lejeune on the coast where we’re putting solar on houses in neighborhoods. We own those panels, we installed them, maintain them, measure the amount of energy generated that heats the homes’ water, and sell the energy to the housing company. It really can be mainstream,” said Michael.
FLS Energy has received several forms of assistance through Western Carolina University’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) Center for Rapid Product Realization – a collaboration of the SBTDC, College of Business and the Kimmel School. The SBTDC helped FLS Energy obtain workforce development grants for employee training, a Green Fund Award through the Department of Commerce, investment through the Natural Capital Investment Fund (NCIF), and a Department of Defense (DoD) subcontract. SBTDC staff also conducted a financial analysis using ProfitCents. WCU business and engineering student teams were utilized for various projects – such as the SunRex monitoring system, which now has a provisional patent – and separate engineering projects from the Rapid Center focused on product development.
As a result of these combined efforts, FLS Energy’s gross profit grew from $8.1 million in 2009 to $18 million in 2010 to $35 million in 2011. The company expects gross revenue to double again in 2012 and also expects to hire another 30 employees.
When giving advice to others who may be considering starting a business of their own, Michael says, “Definitely take advantage of services that are out there like the SBTDC. For me, I advise people who are going into business to go into business with partners and people that they trust.”
Story originally featured in the SBTDC's 2011-2012 Annual Report.
More Client Stories from the Cullowhee/Asheville Area
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