Writen by Candice Roberts
R. David Gibbs, inventor and CEO of SolarSEED Energy, has created a product that uses a new type of power electronic for solar systems which changes the landscape of traditional battery generated electricity. The product now in production delivers usable AC & DC power without relying on batteries and seeks to reduce system complexity, system costs, and mitigates traditional maintenance requirements. Currently energy systems require energy storage. The goal of SolarSEED is to eliminate that need for energy storage or batteries. And to create a circular economy based business model, with the product being manufactured, repaired, serviced and assembled in the U.S.
With a background in Mechanical Engineering and an interest in Fine Art, David pursued his Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Design. Fine art satisfied the desire to be creative while industrial design connected to his interests in technology. Eventually pursuing a career as an in-house product designer, he initially found enjoyment in what he deems “creative problem solving” but his interests evolved into solving real world problems.
How did your career in this field essentially begin?
“I got a position with a Research and Development firm based in Anchorage, Alaska. Prior to that I was an in house designer, doing lightning and other designs, and it was fun, but it didn’t feed this need to create solutions to problems that would essentially save lives. Getting the job in Alaska was actually my transition into getting into medical product design, for companies like Johnson and Johnson, and other businesses that produce life saving equipment. The job was centered around an industrial application that mitigated the need for chemicals that traditional x-ray technology requires. In the time I was in Anchorage, that’s when I got into renewable energy.”
What occurred that really took your interests to the next level?
“I really had this interest in doing something that worked without batteries.
While working relief efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma, which decimated parts of Dominica and Puerto Rico, the biggest difficulty was getting batteries on the island. It was easier to get solar panels, but without batteries the equipment was unusable. At this time was when I created a small device and it was powerful enough to operate a small refrigerator using a solar panel without batteries. At first, I thought it would be great for first responders and disaster relief efforts but also in developing countries or a small village. I began exploring the idea and I submitted it into this competition which was put out by the Department of Energy with NREL, and we won the first round which provided funding to begin developing it. Recently we entered another competition by UNOPS, the global innovation challenge. And we recently found out we are one of 5 teams selected to go to the Global Innovation Center in Sweden.”
How has your background shaped your journey in becoming an entrepreneur?
“A background in engineering and design, gives me the ability to communicate effectively with engineers while also having a design background gives me the ability to see beyond the technical and to actually consider how people will interact with the product, a more human centered component. Being able to bridge that gap has been really important and also has sped up the development of the product and being able to overcome hurdles more quickly by effectively communicating what you want and the long term vision of what you’re looking for.”
What’s next for SolarSEED Energy?
“Present day we are actively working with The Reti Center in Red Hook, to develop a pilot version for the micro manufacturing of our product regionally. The goal is to have all the tools and components necessary to fabricate our smart controller. This controller will then be the model that we take to certain countries. We are looking to explore that and also that will give us an opportunity to employ people locally in Brooklyn. For a long time I’ve been involved in working with community based organizations to provide them small off grid energy systems and working with the Reti Center is really giving me the opportunity to bridge the gap between international development and community development. Creating an opportunity for underserved communities in New York and underserved communities overseas in a mutually beneficial seamless way.”
What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
“One of the most important things is to identify a market need and really dig into what that need is. That goes back to why I transitioned out of traditional industrial design because I didn’t feel like what I was doing was need based; it was more just satisfying consumerism., Also, be tenacious in that search and if it doesn’t come to you right away but you feel like you have something just keep digging and keep going at it. Surround yourself with people who are going to be honest and straightforward with you in their advice and in their recommendations. The people that you surround yourself with are really important. The funding will come but focus less on that and more on developing the idea and developing the business because that is essentially what people will invest in.”
Connect with David on LinkedIn