The History of HelioPower – The Beginning
By Mo Rousso, Founder, HelioPower
Mo Rousso, Founder of HelioPower, reflects upon the history of HelioPower and his 15 year journey with the company.
Fifteen years ago this month, the idea of HelioPower was born. I had just come off of one of the worst years in tech, resulting in the bursting of the Internet bubble and the resultant carnage it caused, all across the sector. Unfortunately, the company I was with did not survive and I was left in search of my next gig.
Coincidentally, I was told about a men’s retreat up in the mountains near Bear Valley. So, off I went, determined to rediscover my passions and reinvent myself. After a week of meditations, Tai Chi, drum circles, and truthful talk about feelings (ugh), I came upon the idea of HelioPower.
You see, I had a very diverse background in utility generation engineering and optimization, water and wastewater utility consulting, business management, and a retirement nest egg I could use to bootstrap my company. I also knew that I didn’t want to work for anyone else and wanted to be the master of my own destiny. So, I came down from the mountain and started a company called Urban Refuge.
The name Urban Refuge came from my desire to create a sustainable refuge for my family and others within the urban jungle of Southern California. I also took on two business partners, but retained 51% ownership of the company. One of my partners was an electrical contractor who would be responsible for the installation of our projects. The other partner was a sales professional who would handle that aspect of the business. As the Engineer and President, I would be responsible for design and overall Company direction.
I ended up selling the Company’s first project to an 89-year-old Economics PhD in Fallbrook, California. It was to be a ground mounted system in her backyard. She was driven, not by payback, but, rather, by the legacy she chose to leave to her family and community. I quickly realized that I really didn’t know exactly how to properly design these systems, so I enrolled in every class I could find at SEI in Carbondale, Colorado. Since money was tight, I actually camped in a local pasture and showered at the local community pool 3 times a week during my month’s stay. I received an excellent education in PV there, met some good like-minded people, and had a ball.
Needless to say, the Professor got an excellently designed and installed system when I got back to SoCal. I also extended employment offers to 3 individuals that I met while at SEI to be my installation crew. Needless to say, we all ate what I killed, so we only got paid when we delivered a project. As a result, my first office was my master bedroom, my first warehouse was a tent in my backyard, and my installers all had campsites in my backyard. We were like a roving band of PV gypsys.
After a few months had passed, I was able to sit for my solar contractor’s license and became licensed in the State of California. By then, I was also teaching evening PV design and installation classes at Mira Costa Community College and working with local jurisdictions to train the electrical inspectors. During this time, I came to the decision that my partners were not adding much value (I made every single sale, for example and the electrician was taking unwarranted shortcuts) and I bought them out. I also became cognizant that the name Urban Refuge was not an appropriate brand. I kept getting calls from people looking for trash service! So, I did some research and changed the name to HelioPower.