It's not everyday that you see a new Energy Provider hit the scene, with big names like Enmax, Direct Energy, it is a hard market to break into. Carolyn Martin, CEO of Sponsor Energy, a Calgary Startup, is using their power for good! In true startup style, I asked her 10 questions and she had to answer in 3 sentences or less.
What inspired you to start your business?
Belief in the power of business and everyday consumption to tackle some of the social problems facing the world.
Describe your business, what problem do you solve?
Sponsor Energy Inc. offers competitively priced electricity & natural gas to energy consumers across North America with a socially responsible benefit: 50% of the margin on each unit of energyconsumed is donated back to the charity of the customer’s choice.
Customers often face a trade-off between self-interested consumption and engaging in socially benevolent behaviours. We provide energy consumers (residential, commercial, industrial & non-profit) with more than just a commodity, but also the power to transform their communities.
What is your competitive edge that sets you apart?
On every kWh of electricity or GJ of natural gas consumed by each customer, we donate 50% of our margin to a local charity of the customer’s choice. Our system tracks usage and automatically splits the margin (based on energy price, our margin and usage) with the charity that the site is connected to.
Who are your customers? (future / current)
Our customers are energy consumers who want competitive rates on their power and natural gas, but also want to empower their community by doing something they would have done anyway – consume energy.
Currently we have customers ranging from households in nearly every community in Alberta to small businesses & large commercial sites as well as the sites of our Community Partners themselves (addictions recovery centres, homeless shelters, animal hospitals, low-income seniors lodges, social housing apartments, churches and various organizations across the province)
In the future, we will continue to target socially responsible corporations (and individual households) in deregulated energy markets across North America who want to put their power and gas usage to the betterment of their communities and be recognized for this procurement decision.
What is your biggest accomplishment to date?
We formalized partnerships with 50 charitable organizations who in turn are working with their donors, staff and corporate sponsors as affiliate marketers of our energy offering. These organizations benefit from every customer of ours that designates them as their charity of choice. We were also the first to offer a unique Charity Energy Aggregation Program- CH.E.A.P. which allows us (in conjunction with AltaGas Ltd.) to offer a group rate on electricity and natural gas to registered charitable and non-profit organizations by being part of a larger volume group purchase resulting in lower pricing for all.
What was the biggest disaster for your business (and what did you learn)?
Our early supplier co-opted our model and resold it to some of our competitors. We learned to diversify into other suppliers and markets and also to put much stronger non-compete language into our contracts.
What is the big vision for your company?
To change the way the world looks at consumption and turn it into a force for positive social change. To be the energy provider of choice for non-profit organizations and socially-conscious energyconsumers and consequently provide a stable, reliable source of revenue for charitable organizations dealing with community poverty, homelessness, disease, addiction and animal welfare.
Name your biggest mentor or inspiration.
The social enterprise movement – the art of applying commercial strategies to tackle social problems
What is the 1 piece of advice you would give other entrepreneurs?
Seek a solid customer base that is paying for your product even as your product is evolving.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years? A viable option for businesses, non-profits and residences as their electricity and natural gas provider of choice in deregulated energy markets across North America.
Name your 5 best or secret tools / resources for success as an entrepreneur (could be anything from books to resources to tips to workshops to hardware/software etc)
1. Do something that matters.
2. Partnerships are everything. Invest heavily into choosing the right ones
3. Customers first. Customers beget customers. Early paying customers are the key to getting more customers and securing funds.
4. Think big and act bigger.
5. Don’t be discouraged by early failures any more than be blinded by early successes. There is a long road ahead – persevere and you will succeed.