Entrepreneur Ben Harroun and his family got their start in general construction 30 years ago. Their aim and business niche, for almost 30 years, was to provide low-cost, quality housing. And while the low-cost option might seem to have saved them from the economic recession of 2008/2009, Harroun and his family saw the writing on the wall. “As the housing market began to slow in 2008, we begin [sic] to look for new ways to incorporate our talents in a changing industry,” Harroun said, in a recent interview with Green America. “We heard about a 200-megawatt wind farm on the horizon in our area, and the answer seemed to be right in front of us; use the wind!”
Harroun and his family started Angel Wind Energy, and are among a growing number of people switching into the green economy from more conventional professions. Even during a recession, the green economy is doing as well as could be hoped. The State of Green Business Report recently published by GreenBiz.com showed improvement in many sectors of the green economy, with the majority of sectors at least holding their own during the downturn.
But Harroun is extraordinary, right? Many would-be entrepreneurs who want to start a green business don’t do so because they’re afraid they don’t have this magic formula for what it takes to be a green businessperson. So what is Harroun’s secret for his resilience, adaptability, and success?
Harroun explains his highly scientific, egghead micro-economics theory: “When you are looking to develop a green business, you need to pay extra attention to your customer’s needs and desires. Make sure you get back to people as soon as possible, and remember this above all else: without your customers, you have no business.”
Yes, surely this is rocket science. Harroun saw a need that many homeowners in his area of Illinois were looking for a way to cut their utility bills. He also licked his thumb, put it in the air, and declared (I’m paraphrasing), ‘My God, do we have good wind resources here!’
(I’m being facetious, there is obviously more to starting a company than licking one’s thumb, but the point here is that the basics of green business are not much different than the basics of business: you see a need, you fill that need well, you succeed.)
Angel Wind Energy was born, and is now part of the growing green economy. Angel sources its materials from manufacturers here in the U.S. as often as possible, continuing to contribute to the green recovery. The turbine pictured above is manufactured in a facility in Michigan, one of the recession’s hardest hit states. Their main product is manufactured in Arizona. Green jobs spawn other green companies, and the whole thing grows, organically. Brilliant.
As consumers, these clean tech entrepreneurs give us a choice. We can get our energy from companies like Angel that help create green jobs and renewable, clean solutions. Or we can get our energy from companies like Chevron that exploit third world countries, leave toxic legacies, abuse human rights, and do tons of greenwashing.
So is Harroun satisfied with his success? Like any good entrepreneur, he continues to see opportunities for growth: “We are looking into expanding beyond offering just renewables in our business. We are currently working to form an off-shoot of Angel Wind Energy as Angel Energy Services. This branch will handle energy-efficiency products, such as installation of geothermal and biomass HVAC systems, solar-thermal and tankless water heating, and products that will reduce power consumption through an energy auditing program with thermal imaging. We will be covering the entire scope of energy associations with these means.”
Scott Cooney is the founder of Green Business Village, a sustainable strategy consulting firm focused on providing low-cost management tools to small, green businesses that are usually only available to big businesses with big budgets to hire consulting firms, and author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), a book deliberately left off the nominations for this post 1) because that would have meant a lot of bias, and 2) because it does not belong in a top ten list with some of the names above. Maybe one of my future books…but for now, I’m very happy to be promoting the wonders below.