Solar Energy and Kim Burnett – Can You Be Successful in Your Business With Solar Energy?

In 2014, Kim Burnett sold her jewelry business in London for £500,000 and used the proceeds to launch her own consultancy — Solar Energy. Based in St. Lucia, she now uses her skills to help other businesses make the most of the sun’s energy and become more sustainable. Below, she shares the details of her incredible journey.

From Entrepreneur to Businesswoman

Kim Burnett grew up in England and left school at the age of 16. She initially studied law at university but found it wasn’t for her. Subsequently, she went on to complete a psychology degree at London University. After graduation, she worked for a stock brokerage in London. However, she found working for a large company wasn’t for her either. At the age of 27, she decided to leave her job and launch her own business. She spent the next three years doing research in behavioral science and marketing (specifically, neuroscience, behavioral finance, and digital marketing).

In the meantime, she had become interested in alternative energy and saw the potential it offered businesses. She started to invest in solar water systems (SESs) for her favorite restaurants and got to know the people behind these systems. When a solar energy company in Italy approached her with an opportunity to purchase an SES at a discounted rate, she jumped at the chance. The sale of this asset gave her the financial freedom to pursue her next step.

Going Solo

In 2014, at the age of 30, Kim pitched her business idea to an online business network in Italy and got the nod. She put her name down as a supplier of solar energy systems and registered her business with the Italian Corporate Registry. She then set about purchasing her first solar panel system (a 200 Watts system developed by a company called Efficient Energy). This gave her the basic knowledge and understanding of how solar energy worked and opened up the possibilities for growth.

The following year, she attended the first International Solar Summit in Barcelona, Spain where she met the people behind the big corporations that purchase solar energy systems. This was a chance to establish business relationships and gain a better understanding of the large-scale administration that goes into purchasing and maintaining solar energy systems in businesses.

An Undisputed Success

Three years later, in May of 2017, Solar Energy was valued at £2.5 million, with an annual revenue of £500,000. In addition, the company had 19 employees, with offices in St. Lucia and Dubai and a network of collaborators in South Africa, India, and the Middle East. This was largely due to Burnett’s ability to gain contract work and establish long-term business relationships with the big companies that purchase solar energy equipment.

While establishing Solar Energy in 2014, she had focused on marketing and sales. Once she had an appreciable amount of business coming in, she shifted her attention to operations and began hiring people with operational experience. This is how she built an in-house team, which she later incorporated as a limited company and named — Solar Group. The company now has 25 employees and is run by a board of directors, chaired by Burnett. It also maintains offices in St. Lucia and Dubai and collaborates with partners and vendors worldwide.

Since May 2017, Solar Energy has doubled its revenue while slashing its costs. This is largely thanks to the company’s emphasis on sustainability and the reduction in the cost of solar power. In fact, the cost of solar power has plummeted 82% in the past three years (it was £22.83 per megawatt hour in 2016 and is now £5.26 per megawatt hour).

Sustainability and Positive Impact

Sustainability and green business have become buzzwords in recent years. However, it wasn’t always like this. Many large companies adopted sustainability as a marketing ploy and bought green business units which they then used as a marketing tool. This is what happened to Kimberly-Clark, one of the world’s largest papermakers. In 2014, the company established a “sustainability center of excellence” in Germany and hired a chief sustainability officer. The following year, the company spent £22.2 million on energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, primarily solar power stations. According to Forbes, by 2017, the company was generating an estimated £62.5 million in sales from its paper towel, tissue, and napkin business, along with other ventures. This led to a 72% increase in operating profit that year. Interestingly, the share price of Kimberly-Clark more than halved in 2018, falling 26% in the year to date.

Similarly, Unilever, one of the world’s largest food and beverage companies, established a sustainability unit in 2014 and began purchasing green energy projects, including solar power stations. Since then, it has invested heavily in green businesses, purchasing the Irish company Mango for a reported £60 million in March 2018. Mango employs more than 160 people and owns and operates five coffee shops in Limerick, Ireland. The business also has a 20% stake in the Mexican coffee company, Cafetelco. Furthermore, Unilever has invested more than £500 million in renewable energy projects since 2014. As a result of this investment, the company has significantly expanded its renewable energy portfolio and now owns and operates more than 100 MW of installed capacity, primarily solar power stations.

A Strong Brand That People Want To Be Associated With

In these two examples, you have two of the world’s largest companies investing heavily in alternative energy to combat climate change. They’ve established a strong brand for themselves in the process.

In 2016, Forbes named Solar Energy as one of the top 20 emerging companies that are disrupting the industry. The publication praised the company for its strategy of going green while being profitable and for the brand name it had built.

“This is one company that is really going to make an impact in the industry and, in a few years’ time, people will be talking about Solar Energy in the same breath as brands such as Google and Apple,” said Forbes.

This year, the company won the Top 100 UK Start-ups award for New Businesses, was shortlisted for the Innovative Business Award, and was named one of the Top 40 Most Innovative Companies in Cloud Technology by the ICT Market Place. Google, Apple, and Microsoft also recognized Solar Energy as one of the most innovative companies in the tech industry. This is quite an achievement for a business that only existed in cyber space three years ago.

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