A Pittsfield Township-based company that creates customized solar lighting solutions, Solartonic, was the winner of the second Pitch Ypsi $5,000 business competition on Oct. 26.
Entrepreneurs in eastern Washtenaw County who have an idea for a new business or for growing an existing business were invited to submit a pitch at the Pitch Ypsi website, and organizers winnowed the field down to the four best entries. Finalists then pitched their ideas to a panel of judges during the finale at the downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market, 16 S. Washington St. The other finalists were Gutland Games, Star Studio by Angel, and Tinker Tech Consulting.
Solartonic co-founder Brian Tell says his company has participated in other pitch competitions, but those events were usually either focused on technology or more specifically on solar innovations. The diverse Pitch Ypsi format was new to his company.
"It was an unusual event. This was the first competition where we were going up against a hairdresser, a therapist, and a guy creating board games," he says. "I thought it was a blast, but it was a little bit of a mystery what the Pitch Ypsi team would be looking for."
In addition to the cash prize, Solartonic won marketing services as well as law services from Varnum, Attorneys at Law, one of the sponsors of the competition.
"For a small company like us, those two in-kind prizes are as valuable, if not more so, as the financial award," says Tell. "It's timely, and we can really utilize those services."
Solartonic currently consists of Tell, his co-founder Harry Giles, and a few others who are "in it for the sweat equity," Tell says. The company hires people on a temporary basis for big projects, but Tell says he expects the company to start hiring full-time staff soon.
The two founders met in 2009 and shared a vision of wanting to make solar technology products that were "cool-looking and not ugly, of high quality and high design," Tell says. In 2012, they got the chance to do that by building solar modules that wrapped around a light pole and powered the light, a product unlike anything already on the market.
Eventually, the team decided they needed to offer a complete solution that included the solar panel, the light pole, and smart controls. Solartonic has since created custom lighting solutions for a number of companies, including a project in Dallas and a demo project in Detroit for NextEnergy.
Tell says the Pitch Ypsi win will allow Solartonic to grow its Ypsi operations and possibly expand into a larger building on its current site, as well as supporting a new sales office the company just opened in London. Tell says the company plans to build on its current momentum and open a small sales office in the southwest of the United States, possibly in Phoenix or Dallas.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos courtesy of Solartonic.