When he attends meetings on green energy, people want to talk to Glenn Schulke about putting solar panels on their roofs.
He explains, politely, that’s not really his business.
The entrepreneur, who works out of his garage in Ahwatukee Foothills, is into Earth-friendly innovation on a more personal level. Schulke’s company, GoSolarLife, creates portable solar-charging solutions for individuals on the go, and his sales show that customers are plugging into the concept.
Innovation is a vital ingredient to thrive in the continued weak economy, and Schulke’s startup and many other businesses in Arizona display it in spades.
His solar-charging applications are used in interesting ways. Some examples:
��A customer on an extended bicycle tour of New Zealand bought the company’s products to recharge his MacBook Pro and write a blog while sitting in his tent at night.
��A videographer doing a remote shoot in Africa was going to be without power for about two weeks. He used the company’s solar-charging cameras and laptop computers.
��A doctor on a mercy medical mission in Afghanistan used a solar-charging laptop, satellite phone, GPS and cameras so she was able to perform medical services in numerous clinics over three weeks.
��The company created and supplied a system to a customer with sleep apnea so he recharges his portable CPAP machine on hunting trips.
Remote workers for the U.S Forest Service out for a few weeks at a time could recharge their lead-acid batteries during the day while working and use a solar shower pump for hot showers when they returned to camp in the afternoon.
Schulke is among the many innovators in Arizona who work hard to make their mark. There is the young paramedic who launched his own air-ambulance company. There is the poker-room operator who is now considered the father of the modern Indian casino in Arizona. There is the inventor who devised a niftier way for homeowners to save energy. Their products and concepts can be key drivers of jobs, economic growth and potential recovery in a time of fast-changing technology as traditional economic remedies fail to take hold.
From January through August 2010, GoSolarLife sales were up more than 80 percent compared with the same period last year, numbers that Schulke said don’t include a contract renewal he hopes to receive this year from the Canadian government.
In July, he shipped a large order of solar-charging systems to a company that sells satellite phones to the United Nations.
“There’s more to it than just putting panels on your roof,” said Schulke, who owned a business doing work for commercial aviation when it closed thanks to the loss of a $3.8 million contract following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“These are products that have real-world application and solve real problems for people that are using them. And they provide them with opportunities to live their lives how they choose to.”
For Schulke, innovation is about freedom for his customers. He brags about the man who solar-charged his MacBook so he could take his office off the grid. “He literally sat in a park in San Francisco for the day with an AirCard (wireless Internet) in his computer, and his battery never dropped below 100 percent,” Schulke said.
Schulke founded the company more than two years ago after attending a meeting of ASM International, the society for materials scientists and engineers. It was there Schulke learned of the then-fledgling solar market in the state, and he figured his products could fill a niche.
Tucson-based Global Solar manufactures the products, and he distributes them. Tekkeon, based in Tustin, Calif., makes the battery packs. Schulke’s innovation comes from taking devices made for the military and designing them for professional consumer use.
He is far from finished exploring the niche. He is in the process of engineering products that will help those in scooters and wheelchairs. And he sees a market in environmentally friendly customers who buy recreational vehicles.
“There’s a whole cadre of RVers out there that don’t want to run their generators when they’re sitting in the middle of the wilderness,” he said. “But yet, they would like to work on their computers.”
Selling simpler – and useful – ways to go solar