On Tuesday October 2nd we hosted an evening program titled, “How to Make Money in Renewable Energy” for 45 brave souls who traveled to Indianapolis for the International Ground Source Heat Pump Association (IGSHPA) Conference.

These were the panelists:

  • Allan Skouby, GeoPro – manufacturer of thermally enhanced grout.
  • Steven Hamstra, Greensleeves – engineer, designer + manufacturer of packaged geothermal solutions
  • Greg Beach, Geo-Hydro Supply – longtime installer turned wholesale distributor
  • Rick Ortman, Ortman Drilling – geothermal, water well, and environmental drilling services

Each provided a history of their company and shared the biggest challenge currently facing the business.  Ground rules were simple: 1) no marketing of yourself or your products (that’s what the trade show is for!), 2) be honest, and 3) keep it positive.

Here are the top two lessons I learned, distilled from an evening full of great conversation:

  1. Think big and be generous.  There was an obvious pattern that emerged from the guys who have made money in the geothermal industry for a long time – they help people.  Employees, customers, vendors, competitors…everybody.  The best example of this came from Rick Ortman, who partnered with two competitors to win one of the biggest geothermal drilling jobs in history (the Ball State geothermal installation).  I asked him, “Was it hard to partner with a competetor?”  His response: “Not really.  We help our competitors all the time – when the economy was really bad in the 70’s, my dad used to teach the other drillers in the area new methods and help them keep the industry going.”  Did I mention that their company has been around since 1922?  Think there’s a lesson to be learned there?
  2. Learn to tell your story so people listen.  Almost everyone’s biggest challenge seemed to revolve around convincing someone to listen and act on information they could provide.  Allan and Steve talked about design engineers, especially ones with no geothermal experience, not always listening or doing things the right way.  Greg and Rick had similar things to say about other contractors and the end customers.  The geothermal industry has such an amazing story to tell for those who will listen, but not enough people are listening.  I walked away feeling that this industry needs better storytellers as much as anything else.

Richard Hiles with Climatemaster, and Ryan Carda with GeoConnections were instrumental in making the event happen – so a big thank you to both of those guys.

These honest panel discussions aren’t for everybody, but I absolutely love them.  It’s so refreshing to get beyond all the hype and bluster and really find out what’s going on with other businesses in the industry.  There’s talk of doing more small group stuff like this, so be sure to reach out and let me know if you’d like to collaborate on something similar.