Leading the Charge: College Students Start up Solar Powered Social Enterprise
A pair of Okanagan College Business Administration students have joined forces with Civil and Mechanical Engineering students to launch a new project that will help people power up their devices on the go, while also providing a conduit for giving back to the community.
Project ReCharge, a new initiative by Enactus Okanagan College, focuses on developing products that integrate the power of solar technology into our everyday lives. The idea for it was sparked by Kelowna’s Nick Gallant and Cooper Simson, both fourth-year Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) students, and Josh Wiebe, a second-year Civil Engineering Technology diploma student. The team’s first product, a solar powered phone-charging table, will be unveiled to the public at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 22 in the courtyard at the Kelowna Campus.
“We want to break down the stigmas about solar energy and brighten the community’s imaginations as to the possibilities that solar energy can provide,” explains Gallant. “Our hope is that by showing this technology is affordable, practical and durable that it will start to be utilized by schools, hospitals, restaurants and other public places and institutions to save energy while making people’s lives easier.”
Taking the project from the idea stage to the real-world opened up opportunities for other OC students to let their talents shine.
When their initial designs seemed promising, Gallant, Simson and Wiebe reached out to the College’s Mechanical Engineering program for input. Students James Van Maren, Kyle Smid and Shane Valcourt stepped forward and quickly plugged into the project, applying their knowledge to rigorously test both the principles and the technology behind the group’s prototype.
Only a few months later, the project is already off to a bright start.
After the installation of their first table at the Kelowna campus this week, the group has been given the go-ahead to have tables installed at the College’s campuses in Penticton, Vernon and Salmon Arm later this spring. But even before those tables see the light of day, the group will have another chance to share their idea with the world when they pitch it at Enactus Western Canada Regional Competition in Calgary March 1-2.
The trio from OC will go up against teams from colleges and universities across B.C. Alberta and Saskatchewan. They’ll be vying for the top spot in the Scotiabank EcoLiving Green Challenge, which invites students to put forward their most creative socially-focused business ideas that advance sustainability in Canada.
They’ll also be competing for funding that could help them grow the project and bring their products to market sooner. Project ReCharge was announced by Enactus Canada as one of 13 finalist schools that will compete in Calgary for a $20,000 grant aimed at turning projects into viable social enterprises.
Gallant is quick to point out that the project couldn’t have powered up as rapidly as it has without the guidance of mentors along the way. Okanagan College School of Business Professors Dean Warner and Mark Ziebarth serve as the faculty advisors to the ReCharge team, and the group has also received feedback and encouragement from Dr. Kyleen Myrah.
“We couldn’t be more excited to take this project, scale it up and turn it into a social enterprise that will bring real benefit to people in the community,” notes Gallant. “We see this as a chance to model for others a business that blends sustainability and innovation, all with a focus on being a good corporate citizen.”
“This project is the embodiment of an OC education, where we bring the real world into the classroom and our students – in this case Engineering and Business students – apply their lessons learned, and take them back into the real world,” says Ziebarth.
Regardless of the outcome of the competition, the project’s founders are feeling charged up about the prospects of this technology and its application in the community.
Their experience with Project ReCharge has inspired Gallant, Simson and Wiebe to start a solar installation and distribution business in their spare time. Their business, Central City Solar, was recently accepted into the Venture Acceleration Program at Accelerate Okanagan, which the group hopes will help them carve out a niche in the region’s booming green technology sector.