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Business Spotlight: Power Play

Startup is developing mobile solar power systems

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In the very early days of Luke Phelps’ solar company, he was still searching for a name. So, he thought to ask his elementary-age son.

It was in that moment, on the Phelps’ family room floor, that the magic happened.

“Dad, how about vroom?” was the reply as his son pushed a toy car around.

Once Phelps learned there were no trademarks or domains making legal claims to the name, he created Vroom Solar Inc.

Technically, Phelps’ business magic already was there: He had the idea to develop a mobile system to harness solar power for immediate use, wherever the user needed it – farm fields, construction sites, rural roads or backyards. Though Vroom Solar was formed in July 2022, Phelps had been developing his self-described “DIY solar power to go” concept for a few years under Sun Power LLC.

Vroom Solar is working to manufacture and sell kits – each with solar modules, a racking system and a control center – for users to essentially set up their own solar power generating system. Some key factors, officials say, are that there’s no battery or grid connection needed, nor is there hardwiring or programming, and the control center has outlets to plug in for direct solar power.

“It’s a brand-new product and concept to the solar industry,” Phelps says. “This is truly a disruptor product – a lot of blue ocean territory that we are swimming in as well.”

With the patent-pending technology, Vroom Solar officials say they want to change the way people think about mobile power.

Funding first
As an early stage business, the five-employee Vroom Solar team has yet to make a sale. Phelps says the company is in the prerevenue phase, and it’s been generating funding for its business plan.

A crowdfunding campaign on startup investment platform StartEngine.com that ended earlier this year raised nearly $400,000 from over 100 investors, and Phelps says he plans to open a creditor investor round to target large funds, venture capitalists and angel investors. He’s also put in an undisclosed amount of his own capital and is working to secure a $920,000 U.S. Small Business Association loan.

Gary King of EVAlliance LLC in the Chicago area is one of those seed investors. His company is also negotiating with Vroom Solar for a partnership to serve as a reseller.

“I came along this product, and I was just blown away,” King says.

He quickly snagged 500 shares of Vroom, investing roughly $10,000 in seed money. King’s also been spreading the word for interested adopters to place advanced orders – potentially those in municipalities, commercial development and the military.

“There’s a lot of potential use for what they’re developing,” he says.

Vroom’s timeline for product release is in the fourth quarter as the company completes product testing and tweaking.

“I get a little impatient because I’d like to see this thing going. But we knew it would be fourth quarter,” says King.

King says the response in the market shows interest from commercial landscapers and electric vehicle owners to government emergency/disaster crews.

“They’re waiting for the product to come off the production line,” he says. “All the testing they’ve been doing on YouTube – showing the different uses and that it works – has really impressed a lot of folks.”

The forecast
Vroom Solar’s goal is to produce 500 units at the end of year and meet a first-year sales projection of $3 million. The company’s pro forma forecasts $14 million in second-year sales and up to $20 million in the third. The kits are expected to retail for $5,000-$6,500 apiece. They’ll come in three types, says Vroom Community Relations Coordinator Katherine Benson: the racking system for mobile use; a ground-mount system, say outside a house for backup power; and a solar shed kit to provide direct power, charge the tools inside and serve as a backup source.

Officials say they plan to distribute through a network of dealers, farm and home stores, tractor and trailer suppliers, and shipping container sellers.

Vroom’s extended team comprises Crossroads Solar in Indiana for the panels, Advanced Racking in Virginia for hardware and mounting supplies, PowerField in Virginia for ground mount solutions and Pivot International in Kansas for control center engineering.

In the meantime, the Vroom team has moved into a temporary office in Ozark, from a site in Strafford where the company started. A nearly $1 million office and warehouse is in the works in Greene County at State Highway 266 and Farm Road 99, southwest of the Springfield-Branson National Airport. Benson says a groundbreaking at the 20-acre site is scheduled July 6. Officials say the project is approved by the Missouri Works business development incentive program to receive $212,000 in incentives in exchange for making 35 hires over the next five years.

As for the federal patents, it’s a waiting game, Phelps says.

About 18 months ago, the company filed for two federal utility patents: one for the solar panel mounts that will attach to shipping containers, tiny homes, box trucks, cargo trailers, etc., and another for the control center/electronics panel that converts DC power to AC power for end users.

“Anyone with a utility patent – these are not just design patents – they usually have a four-to-five-year timeline,” Phelps says. “During that time, most companies go ahead and roll out their product. We’ve done research to make sure those patents are clear and free, there’s nothing else conflicting so that we can continue moving forward with our product and start generating revenue.”

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jeff sommer

So, all of that to power a couple outlets until it gets dark then nada.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023
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