Aurora Solar: Pioneering Renewable Energy Software

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by Matthew Lu

Two weeks ago, BASES was pleased to host Samuel Adeyemo, COO of renewable energy startup Aurora Solar, for our third annual startup lunch. We were eager to learn more about how Aurora has evolved from a solar installation company to a software startup pioneering the design and implementation of solar power projects.

According to their profile posted on the Stanford TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy, Aurora is a Palo Alto-based startup that is building the operating system of the solar industry. Their product is a cloud-based application that algorithmically generates 3D models of buildings, performs sophisticated solar engineering design, and generates beautiful proposals and visualizations for customers.

By allowing solar installers to do all this without ever leaving their office, Aurora aims to slash the cost of solar installations and make solar power widely available to anyone. Their software is used to design over 50,000 solar projects a month.

The lunch involved a relatively smaller crowd of around nine students. However, the lower headcount turned out to be a blessing as each attendee showed tremendous curiosity and interest in both renewable energy and Aurora’s mission. I could sense Samuel was invigorated by the energy of the group, and he shared a range of engaging anecdotes and nuggets of wisdom. He began by laying out his company’s aspiration to become the software most synonymous with the solar industry. I was instantly captivated by his vision and scope.  He proceed to trace, in colorful detail, his own journey founding the company, beginning with their non-profit solar installation project in East Africa to their current decision to focus on integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence into a software solution.

One attendee asked why, at the outset, Aurora did not choose to focus more on the technology and manufacturing aspects of the solar industry. Samuel responded that advancing solar hardware, while complex and exciting, would never be a profitable business model due to the dominance of China in the hardware space. He broke down the reasons why such a pursuit would not help Aurora achieve maximum impact in the renewables space. This is one example of the insight Samuel gave us over the course of our hour-long startup lunch.

On the whole, we all learned a lot about the budding solar industry. We came away with a strong sense of the determined resilience it takes to mold a passion project into a thriving startup. If renewable energy is a space that interests you, I highly recommend you look into interning for Aurora Solar, either through their internship program or through the TomKat Center.

BASES member Lukas Haas Designs New "Roommating" App

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Lukas is a freshman from Zurich, Switzerland, and currently studying Management Science & Engineering. He has been a part of Frosh Battalion since last October and is planning to join the Business Development Team in the spring. Excited about the sharing-economy, Lukas is currently working on a project called Roommating, and he took some time to reflect on his experience for the BASES blog.

When I arrived on campus during International Student Orientation in September, I could have never believed how quickly I would get exposed to entrepreneurship. While everyone was still trying to makes sense of all the weird abbreviations and trying not to get lost between the many Arrillaga buildings, I met Ion Esfandiari — a fellow student from Paris. We discovered we had many things in common and connected quickly, in particular, because we were both (and are still) in long-distance relationships and therefore shared some sympathy. One day later — our second day at Stanford — we were walking back to his dorm when Ion received a text message from his roommate saying he would need the room for a couple of hours for obvious reasons. Similar incidents continued to occur over the next couple of days. Disillusioned by the miscommunication with his roommate and his girlfriend planning to visit him soon, Ion jokingly said; there should be an app for this!

 

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Less than a month later, we had come up with a prototype for our app and showed it to a couple of students. Feedback ranged from an informal “Lol, this is great“ (Andrew Tam, my roommate) to a more professional “great product-market fit“ (Udai Baisiwala, BASES co-president). This motivated us to continue to work on our app. Until the end of fall quarter we redesigned and added many features; while Ion focused on designing the user interface and implementing most of the front-end development, I decided to do the back end, analytics, and some animations. Within another two months, we had a fully viable product. After building up some social media presence and fixing last bugs, we are now in the midst of launching Roommating which just became available at 10pm on last Friday, February 16th. The concept is pretty simple; you can click on a lock button and choose one of four different time frames to occupy room virtual room for.  Your roommates then receive a push notification letting them now when they can come back. So why this is better than texting? Well, first, texts are mostly left unread and awkward in the first place. But the main reasons is this; if you run into an uncomfortable situation, you can call all your roommates for help with a single force touch from your home screen — without even opening the app. In addition, Roommating lets you react to being locked out using different emojis — an easy way to let your roommate know how you feel. Right now, Roommating is more of a fun side project rather than a startup for me, but Ion and I are planning to add a lot of exciting features; we will start at the level of roommates and then use new features to build ever larger communities, first at the dorm level, then at the university, and finally across universities. In the end, my goal is to connect college students wherever they go in the world by letting them engage in activities and experiences offered by students for students — not on smart phone screens like social media, but in real life. If you’re interested in following where all of this is going, check us out!

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Behind the Scenes of the BASES $100K Startup Challenge

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Sabina Beleuz Neagu is a sophomore studying Symbolic Systems from Toronto, ON. She currently does research on access-to-justice through legal technology, and is excited to share her passion for impact through community entrepreneurship as this year's VP of BASES Challenge. Below, Sabina provides an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of designing, organizing, and executing the Challenge competition each year.

When I joined BASES Challenge as an officer at the beginning of Fall Quarter, freshman year, I had no idea would be in this for the long haul. When I joined, I knew little about BASES, and even less about Challenge -- I knew, basically, that it was a pitch competition for Stanford-affiliated startups that awarded $100K in prize money.

Little did I know, however, that this massive endeavor was run entirely by students. Or that it has been running like this since 1999, with over 1300 entrants to date. And soon, I would realize that something like this could make an impact far beyond the monetary value it had up for grabs.

From the very beginning, the VP leading our team asked us to hit the ground running. We were tasked with emailing industry experts, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs from around Silicon Valley to be judges and mentors for the competition. I was intimidated at first to be reaching out to innovators I never would have been brave enough to speak to in-person myself, but frantic typing and flooded inboxes were fairly common come January. At this point it might have looked like we were in our own little reality TV show, Extreme Networking, each playing to see who we could connect with by merely sending an email. However, rather than being a vain test in schmoozing, the everyday outreach aspects of Challenge taught me some lessons in humanity -- that people, on the most part, are more than willing to talk to you and help you out when asked. Challenge, in turn, helped me refine my “ask” so that I became clearer, more professional, and less intimidated by that dreaded SEND button.

Despite the coziness of my comfort zone, at the end of the year, my VP at the time offered me a chance to step into the spotlight and encouraged me to take the lead on organizing and facilitating a fireside chat, interviewing our keynote speaker. This wouldn’t have been a big deal, had it not been Joe Lonsdale -- co-founder of Palantir and Midas-List investor -- and had it not been me, the frightened, feeble-voiced freshman of the flock. However, soon after hearing Lonsdale’s answer to my question about why he decided to pursue founding his own company, I knew that being a part of the Challenge journey was the right decision. In his own words, “Building companies is not a good goal, in and of itself ... if you find something you’re really interested in, and if you think, this is how the world is now, and this is how the world should work, if we can fix it...it’s about fixing something about the world.” And, later, standing next to Kartik Sawhney, the presenter pitching for the grand-prize-winning NextBillion.org team, which aimed to empower people with disabilities by connecting them with mentors in the tech sphere, I realized how much this undoubtedly rang true.

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I take the perspective I gleaned and mistakes I made as an officer with me as I run Challenge this year. Right now, we are organizing Challenge Kickoff, which takes place on Thursday, January 11th, and I have the feeling that Season 2 of Extreme Marketing might be on its way. Nevertheless, I am trying to offer the entrepreneurial experience to others by bootstrapping with the Challenge team, taking risks, and trying to help the rest of the community find and fix the issues that they care about. If that’s not entrepreneurship at its very heart, then I’m not sure what is.

Inside the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar: Q&A with Anne-Marie Hwang

 

 

Anne-Marie is a junior from Dallas, TX, studying Mathematical Computational Science (MCS). She is the VP of Spark and has been on BASES since freshman year. 

 

Why do people take the MS&E 472: Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series?

I think people enjoy the MS&E 472: Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series because we feature speakers from different industries with different entrepreneurial journeys. Much like the student body, our speakers are diverse, so there is something for everyone. I have noticed that after each lecture, there will always be a swarm of students approaching the speaker either to solicit advice, network, or ask more questions. It is clear that students take ETL because they are interested in entrepreneurship in general, but I think it’s really awesome how students will find certain speakers to be so thought-provoking and inspirational that they will reach out after class to try to connect.

 

What have you found to be the most valuable experience from ETL?

As a sophomore, I was one of the teaching assistants for ETL, and the last speaker of fall quarter was Jay Kaplan, the co-founder of Synack, Inc. At that point in time, I was a sophomore, and I had just declared mathematical computational science because I realized that I had loved my math and computer science courses from freshman year. However, because I came from a more of a humanities background, I did not not know much about the tech industry. However, as I listened to Jay speak about his experience transferring the knowledge he gained working at the NSA to his startup, I was inspired. I was excited by the cybersecurity industry and, in particular, his company, which specialized in crowdsourced penetration testing. I approached him after his talk to ask about opportunities at Synack because I knew I wanted to work at Synack. I later emailed him, interviewed at the company, and worked at Synack in the spring and summer, and I had an absolute blast learning more about tech and startups firsthand. I will probably forever be the biggest advocate for ETL; I cannot stress how important it was to me because it not only exposed me to different entrepreneurial journeys but also gave me my first internship working in tech!

 

Who are some of the most notable speakers this fall?

There’s a terrific lineup this fall: Sandy Jen (co-founder of Honor), Bob Sutton (Stanford professor), Rich Barton (co-founder and executive chairman of Zillow Group), Catherine Berman (co-founder and CEO of CNote), Tristan Harris (co-founder and co-director of Time Well Spent), Amy Chang (founder and CEO of Accompany), Anne Wojcicki (co-founder and CEO of 23andMe), and Patrick Brown (founder and CEO of Impossible Foods).

An Entrepreneurial Summer

Michelle is a junior at Stanford studying Product Design, interested in the intersection of technology, design, and business. This is her third year in BASES and second year as co-VP of Marketing.

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On day one of my summer internship, I was given a team, a general “problem area”, and $25,000. This was the kickoff of the ZX Ventures Accelerator, which brought about 40 undergraduates, MBAs, and full-time employees together to launch beverage-focused companies. We were matched with teams and broad project directions, given a two-week bootcamp on Design Thinking and Lean Startup Theory, then set loose to create a company in 11 weeks. At the end of the program, we would be pitching to leadership of Anheuser-Busch, the parent company of ZX Ventures. If we created a feasible, viable, and desirable business, we would get funding to make this part of the AB-InBev portfolio.

My team’s goal was to help AB-InBev disrupt the health beverage industry. The first few weeks were categorized as the research phase. We dedicated our time to learning about the health drink consumer and pinpointing the problems in the industry. My main role was product strategy, so I interviewed hundreds of health drink consumers, conducted surveys and focus groups, and worked with research companies. We pivoted from our health benefit focus to taste and then to lifestyle. In the end, we found an exciting opportunity in the health drink space for a low-cost, high-benefit, shelf stable drink with a strong lifestyle component. We found the perfect solution in apple cider vinegar, the second fastest growing health ingredient. It had all the buzz and trendiness we needed (in surveys of our target audience, 95% knew what apple cider vinegar was!), but was currently a commodity. This left a huge opportunity for a large player to make it into a good-tasting premium lifestyle drink. With Anheuser-Busch’s resources and existing fermentation capabilities, we were perfectly positioned to do that.

Over the next few weeks, we learned how to brew and carbonate our own apple cider vinegar drinks by working with flavor houses. We learned how to create business models, P&L statements, websites with high click-to-purchase ratios, and sales action plans by talking with experts at AB-InBev and within our network. One of my proudest moments was, after several exhausting sales days running around NYC in the rain, I got my 15th grocery store to sign a letter of intent to purchase our product. Now, we’d validated our value to both consumers and retailers.

This is not to say that we didn’t go through our fair share of struggles as well. My teammates, Jake Heller and Danny Pantuso (a fellow BASES member!), were incredibly talented and driven, but all 3 of us were undergrads. Meanwhile, most other teams had majority MBAs and full time employees with 1 or 2 undergrads. At first, being the only all-undergrad team seemed like a disadvantage. We didn’t have any more resources than the other teams, and there were many times that we didn’t know how to approach a problem because we didn’t have 7 years of management consulting experience to train us to do it -- we just had ECON 1. However, we took advantage of the incredible resources around us and learned. We truly couldn’t have done it without all the experts in AB-InBev willing to offer their time and expertise to train us. It required more effort and reaching out to get to the same “square one” as others, but it also meant that we each got to take a larger role and learn a lot.

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The final few days were a rush to the pitch. I attended trade shows like the Fancy Food Show to get inspiration for our booth. We brewed, bottled, and hand-labeled hundreds of bottles, created design materials for our booth, and wrote a killer pitch that highlighted many of the things I wrote about in this blog post. I was fortunate enough to get to pitch (see the photo!). Our company got amazing reception at Demo Day -- we ran out of drinks! And, a few weeks ago, we got the exciting news that AB-InBev decided to move forward with our drink and fund our project with our ask of $700,000.

This was an incredible experience. I became much stronger in my product management and product strategy skills, and created a real product that is becoming part of the AB-InBev portfolio. I developed new skills in sales, web design, business strategy, and many other areas. After spending so much time learning about entrepreneurship through BASES and small projects at startups, it was incredible to actually get to build a company of my own. This was the embodiment of getting scrappy, failing early, but learning quickly. I wish I had more room to speak about my incredible teammates, who could probably all write blog posts of their own, and the mentors that helped us along the way (Al and Maisie)! I’m thankful for this experience and excited to see what’s to come.