The global market for climate technology was $13.8 billion in 2021 and is expected to jump to $147.5 billion by 2032, according to Future Market Insights.
In 2022, 15 weather/weather disasters will occur in the US, causing tens of billions of dollars in damage, according to the National Center for Environmental Information. “I had to do something about it,” exclaimed Lauren Flanagan, founder, CEO, and head of strategy at Sesame Solar. His company helps communities respond with mobile, renewable, off-the-grid solutions for disaster relief and rebuilding.
Most current solutions use fossil fuels, including diesel, which add to environmental degradation. “[As a lifelong entrepreneur,] I thought I could find a way to make it quick to deploy and easy to set up in minutes,” said Flanagan. To stimulate clean energy, Sesame has developed a solar and green energy solution that is flexible, fast, portable solar and green energy solution.
Climate Change is Inevitable: Adapt or Perish
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina opened Flanagan’s eyes to how unprepared the US was to handle climate disasters. His concern grew as he watched the devastation caused by wildfires in his California neighborhood. Victims and emergency responders need access to power and communications restored quickly to basic needs, housing, and medical supplies.
In 2017, Flanagan, along with Namit Jhanwar, cofounder, COO, and head of solutions and engineering; and Adam Kasefang, cofounder, VP, and head of manufacturing began building a Sesame Solar prototype. It generates energy, cleans water, provides communications, and provides power to support critical infrastructure.
When Hurricane Maria hit, they were ready. “Island countries are probably the most vulnerable to climate change,” Flanagan said. They planned to go to Puerto Rico but were advised by Virgin Unite, Richard Branson’s foundation, to go to the island of Dominica because most of the people were concentrated in Puerto Rico.
They sent thenanogrid—an autonomous community generator—in a hospital in the capital. And one of the small clinics in the remote part of the island. It not only provided energy, but also filtered water. Mobile nanogrids could help humanity get back on their feet faster than ever. The company’s mission is to make clean energy affordable, reliable, and affordable after a disaster.
In 2021, after Hurricane Ida, Sesame deployed two systems to two Home Depot parking lots in Louisiana. People can call their phones or buy a new one, access WiFi, shower and use toilets.
Sesame Solar’s renewable energy nanogrids were deployed by Comcast—through Sesame’s vendor, EnerSys—in Fort Myers, Florida, after Hurricane Ian struck. The units power trailers for toilets, showers, laundry, and more, and were used daily by 300 residents and first responders.
The company recently launched the world’s first 100% renewable, mobile-response nanogrid. It delivers electricity indefinitely—without the need for diesel power generation—using solar- and hydrogen-fuel-cell technology.
Sesame is working with the Air Force to build two green hydrogen nanogrids to be tested in their rigorous Department of Defense facility.
Funding: Investors, Grants, Tax Credits, Debt, Oh Our!
Sesame raised $2 million from VSC Ventures, Morgan Stanley, Pax Angels, and Belle Capital. The company has also received Small Business Research (SBIR) grants from the Air Force.
Sesame Solar Nanogrids are eligible for 30% tax credits and/or direct payments as part of the Inflation Reduction Act. If incorporated in disadvantaged areas or tribal communities, tax credits and/or direct payments may increase up to 50%.
As a pioneer of SasS, it’s no surprise that Flanagan is working on a payment-only usage model to scale the company. Portable nanogrids that provide treatment, water, power, and communications will be deployed in advance of expected weather conditions. Nanogrids can be used in tribal communities or in impoverished areas for disaster relief.
Mission Matters to Talent and Suppliers
“Our supply has been challenged since the pandemic,” Flanagan said. “We want everything to be made in the US ..and be of the highest quality. We’ve done a lot of research and relationship building.”
Sesame is based in Jackson, Michigan. Fortunately, there is a high concentration of manufacturers in the Midwest, making it easy to find suppliers. Having vendors nearby also saves time and money on shipping.
“It was hard to find talent,” Flanagan said. As an early-stage company, Sesame cannot compete with the salaries of large and medium-sized companies. Manufacturers also require many trade skills such as drilling, welding, and fabrication, which are the source of Sesame’s talent.
The company’s mission resonates with vendors and employees alike. “We’re trying to get some of our nanogrids donated to Ukraine to help the Department of Public Health,” Flanagan said. Helping Ukraine brought tears to the eyes of one of the company’s executives, who said, “It would be great.”
It takes a village to measure up to a Company
With three decades of experience in founding and operating technology companies, Sesame isn’t Flanagan’s first rodeo. He knows the importance of having a strong support network and relies on two of the best to build his own.
Flanagan was part of the original Springboard Enterprise team in 2000 and has remained with the team ever since. Springboard is a global network of entrepreneurs, investors, and mentors that accelerate the success of female founders in technology and life sciences. In 2004, he joined the National Council of Counselors; in 2006, he began investing in Springboard alums and, in 2007, became a member of its board. “Springboard gave me a lesson in change and lasting relationships with the most amazing women in the world,” Flanagan said.
Hardware companies charge a lot of money to measure it. While Flanagan has experience raising equity financing and investing in startups, he doesn’t have the experience to raise large amounts of debt, which as a hardware company, Sesame would need. “That’s why we went to the Morgan Stanley Multicultural Innovation Lab,” Flanagan said. It’s an intensive five-month pace designed to help further develop and scale startups.
“My motto is, ‘keep learning,'” Flanagan said. “I’m talking to Morgan Stanley about the best financing option [for $100 million in debt financing] and how to create a business model for portable renewable energy as a service. These are difficult things that I have never done before.
The goal is to scale the production and distribution of programs and support to communities in need.
How do you use your purpose to attract talent, suppliers, and investors?