Sun Shine: Arrays of light — Clark student’s solar project to aid ‘our heroes’

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Folks who have visions for special projects to benefit society often spend years, decades, and even lifetimes in order to turn their ideas into useful, practical and workable accomplishments.

Not Krissy Truesdale.

Krissy Truesdale, Clark's latest aspiring social entrepreneur

Mark A. Henderson / Worcester Sun

Krissy Truesdale, Clark’s latest aspiring social entrepreneur

It took the Clark University student only three years to transform her innovative plan to benefit the environment, while financially helping deserving everyday “heroes,” into a reality.

But the short turnaround time isn’t the only thing that makes Truesdale’s project remarkable.

You see, Truesdale started bouncing around the idea for “Solar for Our Superheroes,” a project aimed at providing solar power to the homes of people who benefit their communities through their efforts in the workplace, when she was a sophomore in high school.

Work to install solar panels on the project’s first home may start as early as this August.

Truesdale, who hails from Hampton, New Hampshire, recently finished her first year of studies at Clark. “I guess it is pretty amazing that this all started when I was in high school but this is something that I really wanted to do,” the 19-year-old said.

The project has consumed much of her time, but that hasn’t kept her from having to deal with the challenges most college students face. For example, she has a rigorous course load in the Geography Department’s global environmental studies program and she has to work to pay her school tuition and other bills.

“If you really want to accomplish something, you have to find the time,” she explained.

While helping the environment by providing renewable energy through the sun, Truesdale’s project also seeks to benefit individuals, such as police officers, military veterans, teachers and firefighters, whose everyday work helps others.

Truesdale’s goal is to help provide solar heating systems for families whose breadwinners contribute to the community. Basically, the energy credits that result from excess power that’s generated at the homes are returned to Solar for Our Superheroes to sustain and expand the business.

Truesdale believes as much as $1,400 in energy credits can be generated monthly from a single residential system. The project is also supported by grants, donations and fundraisers. About $5,500 has already been garnered toward the $15,000 cost of installing the first system.

Solar for Our Superheroes is a bona-fide entity.

For example, it has its own board of directors, whose members are partially drawn from academia and the energy industry. And it was officially incorporated, in 2015, as a nonprofit 501(c)(3), making it a tax-exempt charitable organization.

The business has also partnered with an established Boston-area producer of solar power systems.

Truesdale, along with a classmate, began brainstorming ideas for the project while she attended Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., as a day student. Her fellow student lost interest, but Truesdale continued to develop the concept even after she was accepted to Clark.

Along with her major, she is also working to secure minors in management, innovation and entrepreneurship, and East Asian studies. Eventually she hopes to take advantage of Clark’s fifth-year accelerated master’s program to study environmental science and policy.

Truesdale said her grandfather, who passed away a couple of years ago, was an inspiration for the project.

“He was a firefighter who had to work other jobs in order to provide for his family,” she said. “Solar for [Our] Superheroes helps the environment and recognizes people for their contributions to others.”

Krissy Truesdale will be a sophomore at Clark this fall. She'll also likely have finished the first project as CEO of her Solar for Our Heroes nonprofit.

Mark A. Henderson / Worcester Sun

Krissy Truesdale will be a sophomore at Clark this fall. She’ll also likely have finished the first project as CEO of her Solar for Our Heroes nonprofit.

A nurse and firefighter living in Marblehead with their two young children will be the first beneficiaries of the project.

Truesdale presented her business plan at a dinner this month for Clark trustees. Solar for Our Superheroes was recently awarded a $2,500 top prize in the Ureka Big Idea Challenge, which is sponsored by Clark’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Sixteen students initially signed onto the challenge back in October. Seven projects were eventually considered as finalists.

School officials said the center, which was established nine years ago, fosters an entrepreneurial mindset among students with ideas that can benefit society, whether through the private, public or nonprofit sectors.

Amy Whitney, the center’s director, said it helps students develop a good business model for their projects while providing knowledge and information that hopefully will provide a path to success.

She said the center also links students, who are matched with mentors, to other available resources such as StartUp Worcester, an initiative of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce that seeks to “incubate” fledgling companies and entities created by students and graduates of area colleges.

“Students at the center are passionate about their ideas and we try to provide them with a skill set that hopefully will bring their projects to life,” Whitney said.

She said the center helps students like Truesdale target particular markets and understand the industries they will be associated with. They also learn how to get their message out and are tutored on communication skills that will enable them to work more effectively with others.

“We want to help our students create something sustainable that can help society,” Whitney said.

She said Truesdale’s project is well-grounded and that her success will depend on her first couple of actual projects. “It is very much about building credibility and a track record,” Whitney said, noting that successful young entrepreneurs have to be problem-solvers and decision-makers.

Whitney said the center is poised to help Truesdale “navigate” any hurdles that may be encountered. “Sometimes there are unanticipated problems,” she said.

Whitney said that enterprising students must be able to adapt because the global economy is ever-changing.

“The economy is very demanding and we really don’t know what it will be like 10 or 20 years down the road,” she said.

Meanwhile, Truesdale said she is confident the first system will be installed later this summer. The first recipients are Thomas and Laura Rice, who live on the North Shore with their children, 3 year-old Charlie and 14 month-old Penny. Thomas Rice is a Marblehead Fire captain, his wife a maternity nurse.

The Rices, who could not be reached for comment, were chosen from a list nominated by individuals living in the Marblehead-area.

Nominees must own their own homes and the houses must be suited for system installation. They must also be engaged in their towns and have community support.

Truesdale said she would like to make a lifetime commitment to the project.

“At some point, I’d like Solar for [Our] Superheroes to get big enough so I can draw a salary,” Truesdale said, with a chuckle. “For now, though, I’ll have to depend on work study and part-time work.”

As a winner of the Startup Worcester competition, the business, which engages student interns from Clark, has the opportunity to work at Running Start, an incubator and coworking space on Prescott Street.

Truesdale said that, if the project is successful, she will make Central Massachusetts its permanent home. “This is where everything started to come together,” she said.

Truesdale is working on a marketing plan, which includes development of a video, so more people become aware of the project.

“I still hope to be involved in this for many years down the road,” she said.

This article was originally published in the May 15, 2016 edition of the Sun.

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