Jalel Sager, Ph.D. (CEO), Austin Cappon (Networks & hardware), and Jonathan Lee (Senior R&D Engineer) are the co-founders of a California based startup, New Sun Road (NSR). They develop cloud-based technology systems designed to distribute...
Jalel Sager, Ph.D. (CEO), Austin Cappon (Networks & hardware), and Jonathan Lee (Senior R&D Engineer) are the co-founders of a California based startup, New Sun Road (NSR). They develop cloud-based technology systems designed to distribute energy (clean technologies), and internet connectivity issues for off-grid communities around the world.
We talk about how New Sun Road originated from a class at UC Berkeley that led to the evolution of various products that now is able to provide renewable electricity and internet to several communities around the world for the first time in their lives. The founders share their experiences building NSR with grants, under extremely resource-limited geographical locations in Vietnam and Uganda; prioritizing technology development rather than taking on new projects; how grit, resourcefulness, and patience helped them persevere; about how important it is to be on the ground when you build this kind of a startup, even though it is hard; and the lessons learned from building NSR.
-New Sun Road
-Job Openings: https://newsunroad.com/careers/
- Problems being solved: Building distributed energy systems for clean technologies; provide internet and energy access to remote and developing communities
- Founders first met in a class at UC Berkeley
- Grants from the governments and UN catalyzed the initial research
- Started the company by building a microgrid in Vietnam
- A visit to the United Nation to receive an award led them to another project on a remote island in a fishing village in Uganda- lit up their main street with 20 connections!
- Guests talk about the ground reality of working in a resource limited village
- While off the shelf components helped them build the initial product (in one of the founder’s mon’s garage), the team had to pivot to building more robust hardware
- Working on the ground is super important while building a startup in this space. No alternative! Cannot build a startup working remotely
- Where do you start if you are trying to build a startup in an under-resourced country?
- You will get your butt kicked!
- Need grit and extreme planning, especially when you don’t have funding
- How do you get help on the ground in places like Uganda or Vietnam?
- Building something in a tough geographical location has to happen before a big partner like Microsoft can trust early stage founders
- CITRIS Foundry, a startup incubator at UC Berkeley was very helpful in terms of infrastructure to build and learning about startups
- Microsoft was an incredible partner that helped build the first systems and also with the pivot
-Microsoft initially provided a grant; develop software for control of remote power systems and microgrids; ultimately became an investor in New Sun Road
- Unconventional funding path- focused on generating revenue than trying to raise a lot of venture capital
- How they treat competition
- What scares them and keeps them on their toes?
- “Helping a community get electricity for the first time in their lives is extremely satisfying.”