ARISE Fair Sun …

The reference to Romeo and Juliet was apt when last week I had the pleasure to meet with Ian MacLellan, of ARISE Technologies (TSX:APV)

The Founder of ARISE, Ian is now Vice Chairman and Chief Technology Officer and I met him just after a great quarterly release to the public markets.

Having worked tirelessly for close to 12 years, Ian is a living example of the qualities we recently outlined in a set of blog posts entitled “Entrepreneurial Toolkit”:

  1. Fearless Passion
  2. Don’t Drink Your Own Bathwater
  3. Embrace Change
  4. Taste the Cash Burn
  5. The Power of Two (or Three)

First of all, rarely have I seen someone more passionate about a business vision than Ian. His company vision, almost a mantra, is to “take solar mainstream” and that hasn’t changed since Ian first explained ARISE to me many years ago. In fact, I believe it was the founding vision way back in 1996. Indeed, even the company name itself, shortened from “Appropriate Renewable Intelligent Sustainable Energy” is a passionate embrace of Ian’s vision.

Having pioneered in the solar industry long before Green Technology was fashionable as it is today, particularly in Canada’s challenging technology funding ecosystem, meant that the company was forced to run on fumes for many of those formative years. By watching cash burn like a hawk and by being able to sell and articulate the vision clearly, Ian was led the charge to fund those early days. Indeed, Ian spent significant time in fund raising mode for many of those years. In our investment climate, this is something almost all early stage technology companies will easily relate to. I would credit Ian with more persistence in riding through a challenging funding environment than almost any other entrepreneur I can think of.

As an early ARISE advisor and investor, it was instructive for me to watch Ian lead a charge which necessitated navigating through a number of key stepping stones to attain their current status as an advanced solar manufacturer. Now they produce both proprietary PV solar cells in Germany and refine specialized solar-grade polysilicon feedstock in Waterloo. As part of the means to an end, ARISE acted as a distributor/reseller of solar components. As well, they honed their brand and expertise by integrating solar systems into a number of, primarily residential, projects. Although this potentially diverted much energy and focus, it was necessary to generate awareness, cashflow and to be ready when the market was ready for ARISE to ramp up production of their proprietary products.

Today, having raised over $100 million in financing, which is in itself a rare feat in the cash-starved Canadian technology ecosystem, ARISE is growing at breakneck speed. They will transition from effectively a pre-revenue state to a projected over $40 million revenue from commercial solar production during 2008. Such rapid market expansion requires scaling of all aspects of the business, including significant increases to their management footprint. Unlike many founders, Ian was ahead of the curve, both in recruiting A-team talent into CEO and CFO positions, but also refining his role into a long term role where he can have the highest value to this growing Canadian success story. Other entrepreneurial founders could do well to learn from people like Ian. Although it’s sometimes hard to “check your ego at the door”, building great companies is all about great teams as imposed to superstar individuals.

Kudos to Ian and the great team at ARISE. We’ll be watching this Canadian-headquartered global success story closely.