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Cafecito con Jason Dispenza

Friday, July 21, 2017   (1 Comments)
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Jason Dispenza, CEO of EDGE Energy

 

Jason Dispenza has over 15 years' experience in energy efficiency and finance and construction, serving in sales and executive positions, and, since 2006, as the CEO of an energy services company, EDGE Energy, which is based near Washington DC and employs roughly 50 people across five states. In 2014, he founded E2F2.us, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, focused on restoring data rights to citizens and helping the Dept of Energy understand the needs of the Green Building and Solar industries' respective credit markets and the possible interoperability enhancements from using a federated blockchain that could unite Home Performance with other markets like healthcare and insurance more intimately through new types of credit algorithms computed from real world data. E2F2.us envisions a future where the proliferation of carbon farming technologies and/or human processes aimed at reversing climate change is made more effective with interoperable software like blockchains might provide. This work led Jason to start EnLedger.io in May of 2016. At EnLedger, they are exploring crypto-coin offerings which are tied to the existing energy credit markets and namely SRECs. Also, they have completed blockchain demonstrations for clients in the energy efficiency, health, education, and automotive industries, with an ultimate aim of releasing a blockchain inter-operability platform for crowd-funded social initiatives and credits in 2017.

 

What is the focus of EDGE Energy?


EDGE Energy offers sustainable energy solutions for individual homeowners and businesses like solar, energy audits, weatherization, and other sustainable building and remodeling services. Growing EDGE Energy remains a wonderful journey because we get to reduce our customers' carbon footprint while saving them money and improving their comfort levels while contributing to a stronger local economy through job creation with good wages. Our 48 employees (one quarter of whom are Hispanic) are all trained experts in their fields and are passionate about providing the DC-Maryland-Virginia (DMV) region with energy and money-saving services for building owners. We have implemented systems to prove our results to clients through pre- and post- diagnostic testing, and we reward our staff with bonuses when performance targets are met job-by-job. More generally, EDGE Energy's focus is to fix a crucial problem within any building by developing an integrated understanding of it and offering optimal solutions based upon our tailored mathematical models and computer simulations.


Why did you decide to start EDGE Energy?


I am driven to leave the world as a better place than when I came into it. When we want to change something that is bigger than us, what do we do? My answer is that we can contribute, one project and neighborhood block at a time, and that's what EDGE Energy is doing. People on our team came together because they care deeply about climate change and healthy living. That includes a lot of millennials whom I thought would eventually leave, but almost all have stuck around. People got together and more followed them: clients, partners, entire communities. With feedback, data, and lot of positive energy behind us, a few people became a network of thousands of citizens acting together for the betterment of our world.


Who are your clients?


Republicans, Democrats, wealthy, low-income... all types, really. They all want to fix a problem (or two) like: saving money, pursing renewable (free) energy, reducing their carbon footprint and/or their lifestyles’ impact on global climate change, increasing the comfort levels of their home, improving their air or water quality, and more... luckily for us, most home performance projects do all of these things at the same time! Clients all want to take action, and we are here to help them achieve their individual objectives.


What impact has being a member of the MDHCC had on you and your business / company?


We became members just a few months ago, but I can already tell it’s going to be a wonderful partnership. The Annual Gala, which three of our staff members attended, gave us an opportunity to meet some incredible people and was a great preview of all the exciting projects in the works. We cannot wait to hopefully join some of them, but also to establish a connection for our diverse staff. We have a significant proportion of Hispanic and Spanish- speaking staff members who have learned so much and have done incredible work and want to spread their knowledge to their community. Soon, we plan to launch B2B and community tools in which our Hispanic staff can get involved and paid for lead generation and business networking. We would rather put money into our staff and the local community vs. Google and other expensive lead generation services. I’ll be excited to see how the Chamber can help our staff deploy these channels to local area civic groups and businesses.


What is the most important lesson you have learned from being a business owner or in your current position?


To build a business (that will help you as well as other people grow) requires discovering and remembering that you are just the same as everyone else. If you do that, you will see your reflection in others and learn so much from them, and continue to design a company for everyone to feel safe and be their best.


Why did you choose Maryland as the place in which to do business?


We picked Beltsville, MD for our main office because it is a strategic center point for our service area (approximately in the middle of the DMV region). Today we are very glad things turned out that way, because Maryland is a beautiful and diverse state with a great entrepreneurial spirit and potential for energy projects due to strong job rebates and incentives. Also, we have worked with MD Dept of Housing programs retrofitting low- income and at-risk housing populations going back to 2009. These programs have taught us much humility and we’ve seen some of the most impactful results on peoples’ health and lifestyles result from those programs.


What has this year been like?


“Surprising” at every level. Politically, economically, socially... Since 2006, EDGE Energy has doubled in size every 1.5 years. The 2008 financial crisis didn't even really hit us – and our gross trajectory kept increasing because were focused on job performance and proving our results through data. This is very different than your average contractor, and data quality and job performance are central tenants to our corporate philosophies. So far this year, the political changes our country is experiencing haven't yet affected us (too much), which is encouraging, but I don't know if it's going to last. People seem to find common ground, and we encourage our staff to express themselves and stand-up and speak-out for what they believe in ... we just try to keep them safe and educated and try to guide them to make responsible decisions.


What are your expansion plans for the future?


We are focused on craftsmanship, and we want to take that further into heating and cooling systems – since we do so much of this work already, but require subcontractor partners to accomplish that portion of a whole home retrofit. We would like also to expand into more U.S. states where Solar is popular like NJ, MA, CT, DE, NC, SC, and FL. We have also begun to respond to international interest for energy system design and procurement and installations... in South and Latin America and Africa – although no real projects have yet emerged. Finally, we are also working on expanding our commercial energy systems branch, having begun to price larger and larger renewable energy systems and participating in micro-grid and other conglomerate and community-type projects.


What is the hardest decision you have had to make in your business?


In 2010, EDGE Energy became a "real" company, with its own office. We had to add staff, build an office, purchase trucks, and deal with some bad employees and managers who were put in place when we were smaller and still working out of my home’s basement. To this day, we are very merit-based, and almost all of our staff is expected to manage themselves – in terms of hours or safety or decision making. Managers at EDGE are there to help solve problems and remove roadblocks or tackle the most difficult of situations. We can maintain this system because our employee handbook and our wage and commission policies are designed around work getting completed – and moreover – getting completed well. In any event, back in 2010, our growth spurt and removing some bad apples amongst our staff took time and resulted in our only loss over 10 fiscal years. But in that year, it was really scary, and we were not sure if we could make it into 2011 or 2012. In order to keep 100% of jobs intact (no furloughs or layoffs), we had to take 8% off everyone's salary. The mantra at the time, was that we are all in it together... which is still true today. For instance, if we have a safety violation or a failed job, the whole team is aware and sometimes kicks in free time or shares a penalty as a group. Nobody resigned because of this 2010 pay cut, despite being at the end of a hard year of grueling construction work. But we had good Maryland state contracts in place and momentum in new areas like solar. To my surprise, almost everyone who took a pay cut is still here, and all salaries have since recovered and surpassed the 2010-2011 levels by 15-20%.


Describe a typical day in your life


I still wear many hats for the Company. During the day, I manage CFO/CTO/CEO duties for the company - a little bit of everything. It can include multiple conference calls with multiple teams or partners. But I always reserve a few hours each day for “special” or “urgent” things that might happen, which I think is a best practice and crucial for any business owner – especially if you run a construction company. I have weekly meetings with interns; I attend national conferences; I run to all customer problems and put out fires as they get identified across the Company. As a small business, the owner has enormous power to make problems go away, and the first step is being accessible for any level of your staff and clientele. When I get a bit of time off, I prioritize interactions with nature and animals and people across all cultures. I have a deep respect for life, and I always try to learn about the driving forces behind social and economic and natural processes.


If you had to go back and do it again...would you? What would you change?


Yes, absolutely I would do it again. There is room in the world for another EDGE Energy to start right now, today! In terms of things I’d do differently... I would have developed higher tech software systems to manage CRM and accounting together (seamlessly) earlier on, before we outgrew our small company systems. We have been working with a "bootstrapped” capitalization model – meaning we have never taken outside money, and remained locally-owned. This has given us freedom to re-invest our profits into our machinery and our staff and workforce development programs; and, moreover, it has made us lean and financially sustainable. However, medium-to-large Company IT systems take time and money to develop, and we are only getting that completed this year – probably 1-2 years after we should have done it. One benefit of bootstrapping, however, is that we cannot afford to be dishonest, nor inefficient. Today, we are an honest company who has grown organically due to focused craftsmanship and job quality.


What business and leadership advice can you give our members?

 
Leadership and management are different things. If you are going to lead a business you must understand the difference. Also, make good accounting practices and record keeping an absolute priority: aka keeping excellent score of your finances and cash flow. Nothing could be more important to a small business owner! This is fundamental as you grow and need to start engaging banks for debt and/or access to credit lines. Use all the tools available like the SBA and local advisers or SBDC offices for advice as you grow. Leadership is about vision and accepting the fact that you will have to be the strongest and toughest employee at the Company in terms of dealing with the bad stuff week by week and not letting it affect the morale of the Company. Leadership is getting out of the way of employees who are better than you in certain areas. Management, conversely, is about helping your subordinate staff discern the tools they need for success and helping them keep score of their own progress and making good hiring and growth decisions. Leadership is about learning and education and reputation and being comfortable in the hot seat. To become a thought-leader means to take a stand that is morally defensible even if your position is not easily achievable. If you have bad news for the staff – good leaders are not afraid to explain a situation to 100% of their employees, at the same time! Think about what that might feel like, and how exposed a manager is in front of 50+ onlookers who may not be happy about a new policy or having to change the way they work so that the Company can grow. I don’t shy away from these conversations, and I still invite 100% of staff to quarterly policy meetings so we can get their feedback and build it into our new initiatives. Sometimes the feedback you get is extremely hard to hear or is so blunt that you might worry other staff will adopt that same concern(s). In my opinion, a good leader is one that can shine a spotlight on the problem for all to see and still convince them that we can fix or change as a Team - leaving the group optimistic even if the amount of change ahead is big or scary. That may be an example of both good management and leadership. In the end, I know there is much that I don’t know or haven’t yet learned. Accepting that fact (and striving to fix your knowledge gaps) is yet another important hallmark for emerging leaders.


What inspires you?


Literally everyone does – both staff and non-staff. Every time I meet someone, I wonder what I can learn from them and I seek to resonate with people by asking questions and reading subtle clues of their words and body language to create rapport and mutual compassion about issues. I’ve grown interested in neuro-linguistic processes and how relationships are formed, despite being an introvert by nature. As an introvert, I need time to de-compress and get my work done without distractions of other people. But as a leader, I’ve directed my thirst for knowledge about science and systems towards people and how their pasts and passions make them into interesting humans. For instance, one reason why I haven't had my own car for 3+ years is because of Uber... as I love the randomness and the conversations and practice I get building rapport with strangers. I seem to truly enjoy it now. Unfortunately, our world is full of fear and negativity and bigotry. But, just like solving climate change one home and/or neighborhood block at a time, I believe chipping away at negativism is done one interaction with another human or group at a time. It is not easy to give strangers your precious time and harder yet to leave something positive behind with them - but that's what I try to do, and it makes me happy to see another’s day brightened.


Who is your mentor?


Again, everyone. I'm constantly learning from other people. I work for my staff as much as they work for me.


Interesting questions:

 
Bachata, Merengue or Salsa?

 

Bachata despues de un horchata!


What is your favorite Spanish Word?

 

“Sobremesa”... That moment after eating a meal when the food is gone but the conversation is still flowing at the table.

 

Comments...

Md. Washington Minority Companies Association says...
Posted Sunday, July 30, 2017
Interesting points of views. As a residential customer, I think solar energy is far away to satisfy new customers to install solar energy panels. Most of the economics benefits are going to the construction/installer companies. The electrical meter reverse rotation is helping more the big companies than the small owner of the residence.

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