Solar Universe Raises $7 Million To Franchise Solar Installation

Solar Universe — a company building a franchise of solar installers across North America — raised a $7 million series b investment led by RockPort Capital, the company announced today. Abe Yokell, a principal with RockPort is joining the Livermore, California company’s board.

The founder and chief executive of Solar Universe, Joe Bono, said he was able to lock in the investment because: “Unlike our competitors, [our business] requires very little capital to scale, a fact that we have proven by consistently performing to plan, and achieving our goals quarter after quarter.”

Solar Universe competitors, like SolarCity — which won The 2010 Best Clean Tech Crunchies Award — or Sungevity, generate revenue directly from customers, providing services like: energy efficiency audits for homes, project quotes, solar power systems design, financing help, installation and monitoring.

Much like any other franchise, 7-Eleven to Ritz Carlton, Solar Universe generates revenue instead by getting would-be business owners to pay a franchise fee, then to set up shop under its brand umbrella. The company in turn helps franchisees train, generate leads, market their services, distribute solar products, attain financing help for solar projects that their customers want, and provides software to manage their businesses. But the end-product is delivered by the franchisee, which can make quality control a challenge in general.

Bono says his company’s most advanced offering is not a clean technology, but: “[Our] end to end software platform that covers all major areas of the solar installation business: lead capture, proposal generation, front & back office functions, permit assembly, invoicing, financing through partners and customer loyalty.”

With its new found capital and franchise approach, Solar Universe hired Kevin Daughtery to run its supply chain, quality control and operations, and Laurie Anthony Baggio to grow its franchisee and installer network, develop new markets and channel partnerships. Daughtery worked previously as SolarCity’s vice president of operations. Baggio was a vice president of franchise development and COO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? the paid, waste-haulers and recyclers.

Bono said the company expects to hire no more than 20 additional people in the next 2 quarters. Solar Universe’s two dozen solar franchises are currently operating in: California, Nevada, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Louisiana. On average, Bono said, each of his company’s 800 customers have generated 1100 kilowatt hours on average, monthly, from Solar Universe installations. In other words, his company helps generate 880 megawatt hours of solar each month.

The company also plans to use its capital to reel in would-be solar installation business owners and contractors to its network.

While quality control can prove challenging for franchisors in any field, green and clean tech companies are joining Solar Universe in their approach, for example: Dr. Energy Saver, a home energy audit business and Maid Brigade, an eco-minded home cleaning service. It’s just not clear which, if any of them, can achieve the brand recognition and mass market presence of a top franchise like SUBWAY restaurants, or Hampton Hotels.