What’s the inspiration behind “COI Energy”?
My childhood experience of living through energy poverty is the inspiration behind COI Energy. I did not like how it felt to live in the dark so I wanted to be a part of the solution for all people to have access to clean energy solutions regardless of socio-economic status. Being that businesses waste 30% of the energy they consume, we are able to gift the wasted energy to communities that need it most.
This is not your first time founding an organization. How did your work with STRIVE Inc influence COI Energy?
I started STRIVE, an after-school STEM leadership development program, for students in grades 3-12 to equip them with the resources they need to become assets in their community instead of liabilities. I believe it is my duty to leave the space I occupy better than I found it. I was able to witness underrepresented students change their trajectory to achieve a better quality of life from having access. I look to do the same with improving the bottom line for businesses, optimizing the electric grid, reducing carbon emissions, and improving the quality of life for members of disadvantaged communities.
I believe the most important skill founders should have is resilience. Being a founder is not for the faint of heart. There will be many ups and downs, but the resilient one survives it all.
How do you handle risk and competition?
My approach to risk is easy due to my engineering background. I believe in mitigating risk in all aspects of business by operating with excellence. When you operate with excellence at the forefront and narrowly focus on delighting your customers, you will never have to worry about competition.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
I learned that I needed to believe in myself more than ever before (a lot of positive self-talk) to overcome the noise of the naysayers.
You’ve participated in numerous programs and accelerators for your innovative work – Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab, SAP.iO Foundry and MassChallenge. What were these experiences like?
I recall my initial exposure to accelerators left me overwhelmed, so I didn’t think I would ever apply to one. When I was accepted into Morgan Stanley’s MCIL, my first accelerator, I was elated but a bit cautious. I must say, my perception of these types of programs did not align with actual reality. The people, programs and networks truly helped accelerate and develop me as a CEO and my company. I’ve met lifetime friends, supporters, extensions to my sales team, investors and so much more. We were able to develop our product with SME mentors, grow sales, develop a sustainable sales strategy, and learn how to not take things personally.
This is an interesting time to work in the energy field – what do you see for the future of the industry, and how COI Energy will fit in it?
This year has been the perfect storm for digital energy platforms. Businesses were slow to adopt the digital revolution, but the pandemic forced us to reconcile with the new way of doing business. I see the future of energy looking much different from the energy companies of yesterday. The minimalist approach to living will be adopted in order to save our environment. This includes minimizing the amount of energy waste in businesses and homes. COI Energy is positioned to lead the industry into its transformation to the digital world with peer-to-peer energy trading and grid optimization from the elimination of energy waste. Utilities are already adopting such approaches. We are poised to change the face of energy.
What’s your team culture like?
When I think back to my years playing on a basketball team, it reminds me of the culture we have created at COI. We are guided by the following principles:
Relentless focus on customer delight
Employee empowerment that fosters thought leadership
Transparency to a fault
Integrity – lead with what we ought to do
Innovation – provide space to be creative
Philanthropy – give back and pay it forward
Lead with excellence
What is your superpower?
Problem solving. Most of my life I had to learn how to make something out of nothing. If you look at my life journey, I should not have arrived at this place. I’ve been described as a person that slipped through the cracks from an alternative perspective. As early as 8 years old, I started a squeeze cup business because I couldn’t afford to go to Girls Scouts. In college, I was founding president of Pitt’s chapter of Sigma Beta Epsilon Sorority because I was looking for a network to support me and other black women in engineering. I have a natural talent for seeing problems and solving them instead of waiting on others to do it. It comes from having nothing and turning it into something.
What’s your kryptonite?
Low tolerance for excuses.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
OCD with washing my hands.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
I gained a love of skiing after my daughter became a downhill racer (slalom and giant slalom). I also enjoy experiencing other cultures within their respective environments and documenting family history.
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
The voice recorder on my phone to conduct impromptu recording sessions of elders within my family.
I started recording my grandmother and her siblings during our annual vacation because my grandmother wanted to know how many offspring she had. I then started asking a lot of questions and realized that I could not get it all down, so I started recording. I’ve continued this practice until today. My family looks to me as the historian and calls me for family facts.
What’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
My journey reminds me of traveling the countryside, going up mountains and down valleys with the valley experiences providing some rest, but not as satisfying as the endurance required to get to the top of the mountain and see the full view of the road traveled.
Understand that startup life is not for the faint of heart. You will have many sleepless nights, but the outcomes make it all worth it.
Be sure to surround yourself with people that will lift you up because you will encounter more naysayers than supporters. With that, I suggest you believe in yourself more than you ever had before.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
My mentor at Morgan Stanley told me to stop taking things personally. Everyone seeks favorable terms; that is business and not personal.