For Clay Young, a freely admitting workaholic and entrepreneur, time and networking opportunities are essential in maintaining a work-hard, play-hard balance.
As CEO and Co-Founder of Inovus Solar, Young recounts how the company got its start from an entrepreneurial speed-dating event in Boise, "This guy sat down in front of me and said, 'Hey, I have an idea about how to replace the old paradigm in this big category called street and parking lot lighting.’” Young was intrigued by the sector and ideas of Seth Myer, the inventor. “I started to investigate. How big is the market? Is it really possible to get the right financial models to make this work?” Young recounts, “sure enough it looks like a really interesting market for a big technology paradigm change.” He decided to co-found the company with Myer, and Inovus Solar was born.
Inovus Solar focuses on replacing old antiquated street and parking lot lighting. The solution takes it off the grid and eliminates the power bill. The first commercial grade products were released in 2010. The company currently employs 20 people at its headquarters in Boise. The number of employees is closer to 40 if including the independent manufacturing and component developers.
The company has seen tremendous success with growth increasing approximately 250-300% year over year. “We had a solid first year and it looks like we will finish the fiscal year 2-1/2 to 3 times larger than our initial year in sales,” notes Young, “the core reason for that growth is that our products are financially superior to the traditional approach to lighting. We are equal to or less expensive to implement and we eliminate the power bill.”
Young credits the rich IT heritage of the Boise Valley for their success. “Most of the people that I work with came from elsewhere and they moved to the Boise Valley because they went to work for Hewlett Packard, Micron or any one of the many other smaller companies and startups that are here in the tech sector,” says Young. “There is a lot of talent in this area. I have had the same people work in my organizations across three different businesses; super-talented people that just want to be a part of a new business. It’s a very compelling aspect of building a business here.”
On Entrepreneurial Beginnings
His first job interview out of college was outside of Los Angeles, California. “I landed in LAX and I got in a car and I essentially spent the next 2 hours in a parking lot on the freeway getting to West Lake Village,” recalls Young, “It was an interesting job, a very interesting company. I looked at the cost of living and spent another day or two wandering around the area and looking at access to things that I might be interested in doing. I spent a few more hours on the freeway trying to get back to the airport and decided that life was just way too complex and difficult in a place like that and expensive quite frankly.”
That particular opportunity did not meet his life requirements of being able to work hard and play hard. Notes Young, “It was more like work hard and then drive a lot of hours and spend a lot of money just to live.” He went to work for Hewlett-Packard (in Boise), spending a lot of time in Silicon Valley and other places. He observed a lot of people spending far too much time on things that were either not productive or not enjoyable. This set Young’s thinking. “I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I wanted to work some place where I could really control more of the aspects of my life; that is really how I ended up making the decision to stay in this area and focus on building businesses and my family here.”
Young would go on to Extended Systems where, among other tasks, he helped stage the company for the Initial Public Offering (IPO) and co-founded ProClarity Corporation, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2006. Young’s life requirement has paid off, “I have never been told I can't do it by somebody. Boise is very open in terms of the thinking and very dynamic in terms of taking on really complex challenges that otherwise may be culturally difficult to deal with.”
On the Entrepreneurial Mindset in the Boise Valley:
“If you think about the sticky environment, for lack of a better description of the Boise Valley, what has been clear to me over the course of a number of different startups that I have been involved in is the access to talent to start a new business or grow your business is tremendous. People actively participate in startup companies and growth companies here. People are very interested in developing the business and being part of a growing new business in this Valley in large part because they have a vested interest in growing their family here.”
On the Quality of the Workforce in the Boise Valley:
“I describe our talent here as the coffee shop class. They are very creative and very open-ended thinkers. They love the lifestyle in Boise, but want difficult and interesting work to do and it draws a lot of people here.”
“People are very focused on work and quality results. They really don't have a lot of the other distractions that you might have being in a more crowded metro area.”
On the Business Climate of the Boise Valley:
“People are willing to be creative. By that I mean your bankers are willing to look at things differently than maybe they would in other locations. The state itself looks at things quite differently in terms of its role in business development and is quite active in certain sectors to help support business and establish a strong employment base.”
“The state is hands off as it relates to business. We are not overburdened with regulation. We don’t have an overly oppressive tax authority. The state is not interested in meddling in the development of business except in a very positive way and that is not always the case. There are a lot of places I have been where that is not the case.”
“The other thing that is here that people may not anticipate is a very active and engaged set of utility companies and players in the energy sector. The utilities are quite interested in the evolution of clean energy technology and energy efficiency technology, not only playing an active role in networking and education opportunities, but also engage with individual companies, proving economic concepts, piloting products, things of that nature.”
“There are interesting cultural activities going on here. Many people don't understand that we are one of the Refugee Centers for the U.S. We have a large Hispanic population and one of the largest Basque populations in the United States. There is ethnic diversity in our food and in cultural activities here.”
On What Surprises People the Most about the Boise Valley:
“There are so many things that we do here that others don't have access to; right outside our door there all these fantastic outdoor activities whether it is fly fishing or taking advantage of the 50 or so miles of the green belt trails that are here or what has been rated the number one mountain bike trail system in the U.S right on the foothills of Boise or whether it is snow skiing, 35 minutes from the downtown core or white water kayaking or rafting 40 minutes away.”
“It’s an interesting and fun point of contention between my friends and I that live in other locations. They plan their fly fishing trip on an annual basis and I plan my fly fishing trip 5 minutes before I walk out the door and stand in the river. We plan a mountain bike ride at lunch and other people spend days trying to figure out how they are going to get to the nearest location to ride a mountain bike. My family and I just decide; we might ski in the morning and golf in the afternoon and we plan that about 17 minutes before we do it.”
“People are starting to get that our context is different in a place like this and how we think about our lives is different in a place like this.”