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    ASPIRE is a grant program for undergraduate researchers working with Clark School faculty on projects with commercial potential

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    Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund invests $250,000 in Neighborhood Sun

    Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund invests $250,000 in Neighborhood Sun


    The Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund, an arm of the University of Maryland’s Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute (Mtech), has invested $250,000 in Silver Spring-based Neighborhood Sun, a company that acquires and manages customers for community solar projects.

    The Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund invests in Maryland-based startup companies with innovative technologies that may help improve air and water quality in the Chesapeake Bay area. Supported by funding from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the fund is administered by Mtech, a unit of the A. James Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland. Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund recipients are jointly selected by Mtech and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

    "Neighborhood Sun's marketing and subscriber management platform not only provides an end-to-end solution for solar developers, but also makes renewable energy accessible to community members who would not otherwise have been able to take advantage of solar power,” said Jolene Gurevich, Manager of Mtech Ventures and the Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund. “As an investment vehicle of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, we feel strongly that every Maryland community member should have access to renewable energy solutions whether they can install solar panels on their homes or not."

    Neighborhood Sun, a Maryland-based B Corporation, is hired by solar farm businesses to acquire and manage all of the customers for a community solar farm over its lifespan. Only people in the same utility area as the solar farm are subscribed through Neighborhood Sun.

    “We help make community solar projects a reality by getting them customers,” said Neighborhood Sun Founder and CEO Gary Skulnik. “We then manage those customers through our software platform and via our customer engagement efforts within the community.”

    “Community solar” refers to local solar panel farms that are shared by community subscribers, who either receive energy directly or get credit on their electricity bills for their share of the power produced. Community solar negates the need for individual subscribers to install solar panels themselves, while still giving them access to solar energy. Anyone who pays an electric bill can subscribe to a solar project in their area, according to Skulnik.

    Neighborhood Sun has enrolled more than 3,000 customers to community solar in Maryland, supporting seven solar farms in the past two years. Three additional farms are in the works, with several more in the pipeline. At the end of 2019, Neighborhood Sun provided subscribers to four Maryland solar farms, which generated 13,965,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity. At that rate, the farms could result in yearly carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions of 132,764,112 pounds and nitrogen oxide (NOx) reductions of 105,063 pounds.

    “Both carbon dioxide indirectly and nitrogen oxide directly contribute to harmful nutrient loads entering the Chesapeake Bay,” said Sarah Lane, Innovative Technology Coordinator for the Chesapeake and Coastal Service in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. “Solar energy will help reduce this load, resulting in a healthier bay ecosystem for all of its natural resources, as well as for everyone in Maryland.”

    An important part of Neighborhood Sun’s business is its software platform, called Sun Engine, which helps the company acquire and manage customers. “We plan to use the Chesapeake Seed Capital Fund support to build out our software platform even further,” Skulnik explained. “We had been using some third parties, which created a challenge for the customer experience. Using our own will enable us to scale more quickly and capture a bigger piece of recurring revenue.”

    That expansion includes continuing to acquire customers in Maryland and supporting community solar in additional states, as well as offering retail electric supply to customers.

    Neighborhood Sun was founded in 2016. The company initially raised $825,000 from 26 angel investors. Recently, the company completed a Series AA round with the Chesapeake Bay Seed Capital Fund and two other investors for $600,000. Neighborhood Sun is now doing a Wefunder crowdfunding campaign, through which it has already raised $354,000.

    Based in Silver Spring, Neighborhood Sun has ten employees.

    October 21, 2020


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