Research Communications

Third Sun Solar graduates from Innovation Center 

By Taylor Evans
Nov. 14, 2012

There may be no caps, gowns or formal ceremony, but for Third Sun Solar, a client company of the Innovation Center, graduation is cause for celebration.

After nine years in the university’s small business incubator, the solar panel installation firm has moved into its own space at 762 W. Union St. in Athens. Started in 2000 by Ohio University alumni Geoff and Michelle Greenfield, the company grew exponentially during its time at the Innovation Center and has employed as many as 28 people.

From left to right: Innovation Center Director Jennifer Simon, Third Sun Solar founders Geoff and Michelle Greenfield, and Linda Clark, former director of the Innovation Center, recently celebrated the company's graduation from the small business incubator. (Photo courtesy of the Innovation Center.)

Third Sun has clients all over the state of Ohio, including Kent State University and the Wayne National Forest Headquarters. It installs solar power systems mostly for commercial and institutional customers, with about 10 percent of its work done in the residential sector. The Greenfields have expanded the area they service by focusing on design and management of installation projects and hiring people based closer to the job site to work.

Their success has landed them on the INC. 5000 list four years in a row and has earned them a B Corporation certification. This certification is given to sustainable companies that value “people, planet and profit.” Third Sun is the third firm in Ohio to receive a B Corporation certification. The Greenfields also have seen growth in their commercial and government clients, a sector they hope to focus on more in the future.

“Third Sun Solar is poised to grow significantly through the combination of project finance with our technical and construction expertise,” Michelle Greenfield said. “Even with all of this growth, solar currently makes up less than 1 percent of our energy. When you step back and look at the nation’s rising energy demands and conventional energy’s aging infrastructure, the potential is huge.”
The company's growth has led to job creation in Athens County. (Photo courtesy of Innovation Center.)

Although their clientele are in various locations, the Greenfields made the decision to stay in Athens, a place they’ve called home for 17 years. “We didn’t want to move,” Greenfield said. “We like the community here and 80 percent of our employees live here.”

While at the Innovation Center, Third Sun benefited from business training and networking opportunities provided by the incubator. They also received aid from TechGROWTH Ohio, a partner of the Innovation Center based at the university’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, which provided early funding.

“There’s a lot of assistance that we’ve used throughout the years, and it was very beneficial to us,” Greenfield said. “The mission of the Voinovich School and the mission of TechGROWTH is to help foster economic development in our region, and we were just an example of how they do that.”

Jennifer Simon, director of the Innovation Center, said that the Greenfields’ drive made them extremely coachable during the development of their business, which contributed to their overall success. 
“It takes people who are comfortable, who are committed to be successful, and Geoff and Michelle Greenfield definitely fit that mold,” Simon said. “They’ve created employment opportunities and higher wage jobs. That’s the kind of success you want to see.”

The center helps client companies determine their readiness for graduation by examining various factors, Simon said.

 “A major consideration in Third Sun’s graduation was finding the right facility to meet their needs,” Simon said.

Although the company has graduated, the incubator will continue to share opportunities with Third Sun.

“We actually have become a family with them,” Simon said. “You just don’t give that relationship up. We had a graduation celebration for them, and it was actually kind of sad that they’re going. However, it was a very happy moment for all of us.”