The management books all say that, to work harder, we have to work smarter.
Nic Freschi thinks that goes for the sun as well. Freschi, who graduated Verona High School with the class of 2011, just won $30,000 in a business plan competition for an idea to make solar power generation more efficient. The win was even sweeter because last year Freschi’s team lost the same competition by a mile.
“We didn’t even make it to the semi-finals,” Freschi says. “We got some pretty harsh criticism.” But rather than fold, the members of team Solar Divide went back to work and re-did almost every aspect of their business plan. More on that in a minute.
The competition that Freschi won was the Mayo Business Plan prize at The College of New Jersey. It is the brainchild of TCNJ Professor Herbert B. Mayo and Eric Szabo, a TCNJ alumni who is the chief risk officer of the real estate investment firm Annaly Management Company. Freschi (far right, above), is a senior at TCNJ, having started college a year later than his VHS ’11 classmates because he took a gap year in Ecuador. He’ll graduate TCNJ on May 16 with a degree in physics and philosophy.
Solar Divide got its start in the hallways of TCNJ. Anyone who has toured college science buildings knows that their walls are usually lined with posters of student research presentations. Two years ago, one of Freschi’s then fellow physics students, Christian Balevski, saw an interesting poster about light and a film used in the solar industry. Balevski began a “what if” conversation with Freschi that quickly escalated into a bigger idea. “We went back and forth refining the design,” Freschi says.
The basic idea behind Solar Divide is that the different wavelengths of light can be put to use in different ways so that each is used to maximum efficiency. Freschi is not giving deep details on the technology right now because Solar Divide has applied for patents on its work, but he says it could double the output of a large solar farm.
The Mayo Business Plan competition is based not on technology, but on the soundness of the plan for the company–the assessments that an entrepreneur must offer on capital needs, sales projections and competition. After their rejection in 2015, Freschi, Balevski and Cody Combs, another TCNJ physics major, mapped out a plan to talk to as many people in the solar as they could to improve their plan.
“We took it very seriously,” Freschi says. “We met with more than 100 people. We went to solar conferences, we went to Wall Street, we went to solar installations, we went to venture capitalists and energy professors, anybody we could get a meeting with.” The conversations led to many changes, the biggest of which was that Solar Divide would no longer try to manufacture its technology. After the team learned how many millions of dollars would be needed for manufacturing, they decided that they would patent their technology and license it to others.
When Solar Divide presented to the Mayo Plan judges on April 6 they had one secret weapon: VHS ’11 alumni. Knowing that his company needed to show exactly how its product would be more efficient, Freschi turned to Will LaRiccia for some computer modeling. LaRiccia sped through Arcadia University and now has a job with a major technology company–and several patents to his credit. Then Freschi wanted a visual that would help the judges grasp other aspects of the company. He reached out to Ryan Denora, who studied animation at Pratt Institute, and Greg Keating, who had some fun with Conan O’Brien in 2014.
What’s next for Solar Divide? Though not intended to be venture capital, the $30,000 prize will be put in the company’s bank account. In addition to the patent work, the company is seeking capital from an investment group in Philadelphia and talking to other investors to build its prototype.
“The dream in the sciences,” Freschi says, “is to invent something and create a company around it.”
Not to get nit-picky with the writing, because I LOVE this site, but you hit one of my pet peeves. VHS graduated HIM. He graduated FROM VHS.
Go Nic!!! Wow, how exciting! Congrats!
Nit-pickiness is perfectly understandable, and we love the grammar police. Thanks!