BOULDER — Namasté Solar, an employee-owned solar-energy firm, announced Tuesday that it has raised $3.1 million from more than 90 investors in a private offering of nonvoting preferred stock.
Namasté Solar, with offices in Boulder and Denver, will use the money for working capital, the national expansion of its commercial and utility-scale solar-energy division, and new initiatives that include establishing a clean-energy credit union this summer.
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Namasté Solar designs, installs and maintains solar-electric systems throughout the United States for commercial, nonprofit, government and residential customers. It also has offices in New York and California.
Blake Jones, co-founder of Namasté Solar, said many of Namasté’s customers over the years have had a difficult time securing loans through conventional banks for clean-energy projects.
“We’ve been working on securing a federal charter for about three years to open a nonprofit credit union to serve those types of customers,” Blake said. “We expect to receive our charter sometime this summer. We’ll have a national footprint, but the credit union will be based in Colorado.”
Blake envisions that loans will be made not only for residential and commercial solar installations, but also for purchases of used electric vehicles and energy-efficient home-improvement projects.
Raising capital unconventionally
Blake thought as an employee-owned cooperative, it would be difficult for Namasté Solar to raise money from outside the company.
“We were concerned that we couldn’t find values-aligned investors who wanted to support our cooperative model, but we’ve since learned that this isn’t the case,” Blake said. In 2012, the company raised $750,000 through a private offering on nonvoting stock.
Blake said that since Namasté Solar was founded in 2004, the company needed “a lot of capital in order to fund our rapid growth, which has been at a 50 percent compound annual growth rate during our 12-year history. In our first several years, all of our money came from our employee-owners investing in the company, but we started to reach limitations.”
Blake said going the unconventional route to raising money avoided pressures from private-equity investors who “demand high returns in a short timeframe, pushing most entrepreneurs to build the business fast and flip it within a few years. In addition to imposing liquidity pressure, venture capital and private-equity firms generally demand direct control through stock ownership and seats on the company’s board.
“But as an employee-owned cooperative, only employees of Namasté Solar can vote for the board, and they hold the majority of board seats. Because Namasté Solar does not plan to sell, the company sought financing from long-term investors who valued employee-ownership and environmental stewardship over fast returns,” Blake said.
Growth demands some moves
Namasté Solar will move its operations in Boulder at the end of this year from 4571 Broadway to 6707 Winchester Drive in Gunbarrel. Blake said the square footage is about the same, but in Boulder the space is 60 percent warehouse and 40 percent office, while that will be reversed in Gunbarrel.
“We’ve been hiring more people over the years and have run out of desk space on Broadway,” he said. The company also will move its operations within Denver, where it will have more warehouse space. The company will move some of the materials and equipment in Boulder to the larger warehouse space in Denver.