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While South Bend-based Inovateus Solar is a major player in the solar industry, it’s their entrepreneurial spirit and way of doing business that stand out.
Sure, they install solar panels and design complete, integrated solar solutions for clients in North America and the Caribbean, but it’s their opportunistic, failure is okay, team approach that drives this company to keep moving in different directions, seeking growth.
Weekly, the company, comprised of 29 team members led by President T.J. Kanczuzewski, conducts a think tank session, where anything from fly fishing to stages of growth might
This entrepreneurial approach, combined with their Midwest location and core principles of peace: passion, engagement, ambition, creativity and esprit de corps, has helped to mold this company yet make it nimble enough to learn and grow.
The company’s mission is to build a brilliant tomorrow.
Inovateus Solar began in 2008 as an off-shoot of Inovateus Development, a
company Kanczuzewski’s father, Tom, started, which had a focus on sustainable construction.
“We saw that solar was a very interesting part of some of those initial construction projects at Inovateus Development. We also learned a lot more about the solar industry and the effect it was having,” said Kanczuzewski.
“A number of us got involved with Inovateus Development, including myself, which blossomed into Inovateus Solar. But the original thinking, even behind Inovateus Development, was to make the world a better place,” he said.
“My dad (who passed away in 2011) used to say, live the question, promote the solution. Inovateus Solar is the solution to ‘Build a brilliant tomorrow.’” said Kanczuzewski.
With their focus on solar energy, Inovateus Solar started out as sellers and distributors of a variety of solar products. “As the company grew and larger orders of products were occurring, we evolved and listened to what the customer needed, which was engineering, design and project management. Customers wanted us to provide more of a turnkey service—the full package, or one-stop shopping,” said Kanczuzewski.
These services are called EPC—engineering, procurement and construction. Inovateus Solar ranks #24 in Solar Power World’s Top Solar EPCs for 2015 with 25.080MW installed in 2014; 250MW installed overall, including EPCs and supply materials delivered.
According to Tom Brown, VP of strategic development, the company works with manufacturers, describing to them the needs and wants of the industry/customers. In turn, the manufacturers work with Inovateus Solar to supply those products. “We’re really product agnostic. We supply anything, and we’ll look for any solutions we can for the customer,” said Brown.
With the product supply and EPC work going strong, the company added their own manufacturing facility to produce a racking system for the solar panels. The system holds the solar panels on a flat roof.
In addition, Inovateus Solar is looking to ownership of projects. “Instead of just building them, we want to own them. As owners of these projects, we can sell the electricity to customers through power purchase agreements,” said Brown. “We don’t look at anyone as competition. There’s enough room in renewable energy for all the companies that exist right now. The best way for us is to figure out a way to engage with them to help them grow. This ultimately helps us grow. It’s about erasing lines and complementing each other,” said Brown.
“Today, you are either a startup company or in reorganization because the business world is changing so fast, especially the solar industry,” said Kanczuzewski. At the start of 2016, Inovateus Solar is basically in a startup mode with the many new ideas they are incorporating into their business model.
“We are not going to limit ourselves by having any boundaries. We need to be open; that’s what you need to do to survive,” said Brown.
While creativity and innovation are great, their team approach to evaluating projects provides the necessary perspective. “Sometimes we may not agree, but as long as we go with the spirit of the team, we proceed with the idea or project and remain well disciplined,” said Kanczuzewski.
“Any company has to have those healthy conversations, listen to what others are saying, and make those tough decisions.”
This strategy continues to serve them well, although they are not immune to failure. “We fail a lot,” said Brown. “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying. A lot of things we do now are based on things we’ve done wrong. However, we’ve never had a fatal error.”
Their culture has been recognized by being named a 2014 and 2016 recipient of Indiana’s Best Places to Work distinction.
This designation is a marketing asset for them, both in attracting business and talent. "If employees are excited about what they do and are happy to come into work every day, they will be more productive. If there is anything that we can do to improve employee satisfaction, we're going to do it. This drives our culture and makes new customers want to work with us," said Lindsey Bauer, VP of finance and administration.
In addition, they tap into their midwestern values and welcoming attitude as a differentiation between them and the hundreds of other companies in the solar industry.
“It’s really about who we are, where we’re located and how we go about doing business,” concluded Brown.
Inovateus Solar’s installations include carports for General Electric, Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, 20 Walgreens stores in Boston and Duke Realty in Indianapolis. Utility customers include Indiana Michigan Power (AEP), Georgia Power and DTE Energy. The company was the first in the industry to do 1,000V solar arrays on rooftops. They also do over 20% of all solar for IKEA Corporation.