Durham-based Optimal Solar starts a three-month journey today as one of six members of Backstage Capital’s accelerator in Los Angeles.
The solar energy company is developing the energy efficient VIA solar module, invented by Founder and CEO Reginald Parker.
For the past six months, Parker has been at his ‘optimal’ performance in the Triangle area.
In February, Optimal Solar graduated from the first black founder edition of Founder Gym, an online program for underrepresented founders. In early March, he picked up a $5,000 grant from NC IDEA to try investment crowdfunding on the Localstake NC platform.
After repeated success in North Carolina, Parker is ready to make connections on the West Coast.
“I know the people on the East Coast and I’m developing relationships,” he said, “but I want to be a coast-to-coast kind of guy.”
The L.A.-headquartered Backstage Capital connection is a good place to start. Backstage was founded by Arlan Hamilton, who graced the cover of Fast Company in September just a few years after being essentially homeless, and focuses its investments on founders who are women, people of color or LGTBQ. (Last week Hamilton announced she is taking a step back from running Backstage’s day-to-day operations to focus on bigger-picture matters.)
Although Backstage also has accelerator programs in Philadelphia, London and Detroit, Parker said L.A. is the best place for a solar energy company because of the large cleantech presence, which includes the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator.
“There’s also a lot of solar companies either in L.A. or San Francisco, so there’s just investors, partners and people that you can sell to that I will be able to use,” he said.
Parker was invited to join Backstage Capital’s first accelerator cohort in September after Optimal Solar won the pitch competition at Google for Entrepreneur’s Black Founders Demo Day at Durham’s American Underground. (GrepBeat covered the event here.)
Anastasia Tarpeh-Ellis, managing director of Backstage L.A., said during the program that Optimal Solar and the other companies will be guided both by mentors who will follow their progress personally and outside experts who will give weekly talks on topics such as storytelling.
Although Tarpeh-Ellis said each of the different cities are well-equipped and well-staffed, she said that because L.A. is where Backstage was founded, they have a unique strength.
“My coworkers Amiah Sheppard, Greer Engonga and myself are leading the Backstage Los Angeles cohort,” she said. “Amiah and Greer are from Los Angeles originally, born and raised, and then we are also all veteran Backstage Capital employees too so I think that makes it a little unique.”
Although Parker said he is eager to learn and make new connections during the three-month program, he said he will miss his three young children.
“I’ve got mixed emotions,” he said. “I know that this is a really big thing. My family will be back here [in the Triangle] for at least two months. That final month they’ll be out of school and they can come visit with their Pops.”
Parker is the founder traveling the farthest to participate in the L.A. program, so Tarpeh-Ellis said she and the other founders will do their best to make him feel welcome while he’s there.
“Optimal Solar will be coming the longest way and I know that he has a family,” she said, “so we’ll try to be his family away from home for a bit and support him in any way we can.”