#HumansofMaRS: Changing the economics of sun power with Morgan Solar
They are making power from the sun as cheap as electricity from fossil fuels. Toronto-based startup Morgan Solar develops low-cost solar technologies that are changing the economics of solar power generation.
The idea for an inexpensive solar power system came to John Paul Morgan, president and chief technology officer, while working in a logistics position for Doctors without Borders in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2005. He witnessed first-hand how lack of electricity made everyday life difficult in a community.
“They couldn’t afford fuel for generators. They had no grid. After that experience, I decided to devote my life to figuring out how to make solar energy cheaper.”
He moved back to Toronto and got to work, hunkering down in a tiny office with just a laptop, some notepads and a telephone to learn as much as he could about photovoltaics. John Paul, along with his brother Nic Morgan, built the company up over the last eight years, securing more than $45 million in funding and growing to more than 60 employees.
Morgan Solar’s concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) system, the Sun Simba, relies on a special optic lens that concentrates the sun’s rays onto a ultra-efficient solar cell. Compared to conventional CPV systems, Morgan Solar’s technology is inexpensive, less complex and more reliable.
Making the cheapest solar power on the planet doesn’t come without its challenges.
“In 2008, while we were trying to raise funds, we were building our first prototype and it failed completely. It was a devastating setback. I remember feeling physically dizzy. Six hours later, we had already figured out a new plan,” says Nic, who is the vice president of business development and marketing. “If you’re not a problem-solver who not only enjoys tackling a problem, but also is really good at coming up with a solution, don’t become an entrepreneur. That’s part of the DNA.”
When the team couldn’t fit a tracker (used to orient solar panels toward the sun) to work with their requirements and vision to make solar cheap, they engineered their own. It’s that dedication that has kept the team going through long hours and personal sacrifices.
“Get over the fact that you’re going to fail, and just focus on getting to work. People think you need some revolutionary technology to be ‘cutting edge.’ What you really need is smart people and time. If you give smart people time and ask them the right questions, then you will achieve things that no one has ever before. When you are comfortable with the idea of failure, you can actually set yourself up to succeed,” say John Paul.
While the company has its pick of qualified engineers in Canada, finding and retaining talent with the same passion is one of tougher obstacles they’ve encountered growing the company.
John Paul says: “It’s important to make sure everyone is a mini-entrepreneur within the organization. With a startup, there’s an assumption when you’re just five people that there’s no need to actually do anything explicitly to convey plans or the importance of certain task. Once you go to 60 people like we are now, the more important it becomes and the harder it gets. Have a solid strategic plan that gives everyone the direction they need to know what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.”
In 2010, the company recruited Asif Ansari, an industry legend, to take the helm as CEO. Now backed by Enbridge and energy companies in Spain, Kuwait and the Middle East, the company is getting ready to ramp up production and hopes to one day get panels on the ground in Africa, back to where it all started.
#HumansofMaRS is a regular series celebrating the startups MaRS works with. Meet other #HumansofMaRS in our Flickr Album. To read more about the high-impact companies we work with, our programs and key successes, read our report: Place Matters