LACI@CSUN Company Pick My Solar Receives Dept. of Energy Grant

Over the past five years, there have been few areas of growth in the worldwide economy bigger than mobile phone and solar panel use. There has been a 418 percent increase in solar photovoltaics (or PV, the technology that converts sunlight into electricity) use across the country between 2010 and 2014. As for mobile’s ascendance, look around at any group of people around the world and count how many of them are staring at their mobile phones.

For LACI@CSUN company Pick My Solar, merging the two made for a groundbreaking app — PVImpact, an app that can calculate exactly how many dollars homeowners are saving in real-time — and a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to make it happen.

Max Aram is the CEO of Pick My Solar, and a graduate of California State University, Northridge. He joined up with LACI@CSUN — the collaborative effort between CSUN and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator — to create a venue to help start-ups from CSUN and throughout the San Fernando Valley discover business opportunities. The company already had a firm foothold in the industry when they began working on PVImpact, which will be the first app to deliver real-time solar data to consumers.

“Homeowners who go solar usually lose the excitement after a few months,” Aram said. “This experience is not as exciting as buying a new car. PVImpact will engage homeowners with their solar system on a daily and weekly basis, showing them the real impact of solar energy on the environment as well as their pocket. The data is real-time, not just rough estimates.”

With LACI’s support and Pick My Solar’s cutting-edge work, Aram found himself ready to pounce when he found the Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s catalyst competition pop up in his email inbox. Always on the lookout for grant opportunities, they immediately knew they had a product that could take home the prize, $125,000 ($25,000 of which is paid up front, the rest coming after hitting milestones). They had to go through ideation and business plan phases to apply, but luckily they had been working on a concept for the PVImpact app for months before they heard about Sunshot’s Catalyst competition.

“We realized that the timing of this competition was perfect,” Aram said. “We had a great solution for some of the biggest challenges in the solar industry. They released all the submitted ideas to the public and let them vote on the best one. Our idea won this round with the highest number of votes. In the second round, we had to submit a five-minute video to explain our business model. Shawn Showkati, our lead designer and also a CSUN alum, made an amazing video which helped us win this grant which will help us develop PVimpact app.”

“My business partner Chris Blevins is the lead in PVimpact’s development,” Aram says, remembering how they learned about the grant. “We were in New York City for the Christmas Break when we heard about the results of this competition on Christmas Day. Ironically, Chris’s birthday is on the same day! So this grant was a memorable birthday gift for him. We call last Christmas, the ‘DOE Christmas Day.’”

Of course, their mentors at LACI@CSUN had something to do with their Christmas Day present.

“Our advisors helped us refine the application, script of the video and [LACI Entrepreneur in Residence] Bob Musselman did the voice-over on the video,” Aram said. “In general, being part of LACI gives us a lot of legitimacy in every event or competition.”