By Kristine Wong. This article originally appeared on SolarEnergy.net, and is reprinted with permission.
A new startup wants to disrupt solar financing by giving homeowners the opportunity to take out loans from the endowments of universities, foundations or nonprofit organizations instead of big banks.
Window Street Financial believes there’s a good chance that the kind of individual who would go solar in the first place would want to choose a lender that will put the homeowner’s capital towards specific mission-driven work.
“It’s nice to have transparency on what your money is doing in the world,” said founder Johnny Gannon, a solar product engineer and University of California – Berkeley MBA student. “Big banks aggregate their capital and you don’t know where it’s coming from… I want to eliminate the ‘wall’ in Wall Street and put a window there — so that the people who are investing and borrowing know who each other are.”
Gannon hatched the idea last fall with fellow student Ben Purvis. In January, just a few months after Gannon presented the idea to other entrepreneurs at the Oakland, Calif. solar incubator SfunCube, Window Street Financial won $30,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Catalyst program. The money paid for designers provided by Appirio’s TopCoder network to develop an early version of an online portal. Dubbed Sundowment, the site provides information about the idea for homeowners and endowments and enables endowments to track metrics such as the total dollar amount invested/earned from the solar loans, as well as the solar systems’ environmental impacts (such as kilowatts of clean energy created and million metric tons of CO2 savings).
Gannon envisions that homeowners would learn about Window Street Financial from the universities, foundations and nonprofit organizations whose endowments have signed up as lenders, as well as through a network of solar installers who would introduce the alternative financing option to their customers. (The startup is still working on developing their network of solar installer partners).
One part of Window Street Financial’s business model, Gannon says, is to make money through charging loan origination and processing fees. It would also provide services for the endowments by investing on their behalf.
“By managing that investment over time, we’ll make money,” he added.
Though capital coming from an endowment would be natural competitors with the loans offered by the big installers themselves, he says the unique offering could be attractive to installers as it might lower their customer acquisition costs for those who already have a strong affiliation to the universities, foundations and nonprofits on board.
Gannon has met with UC Berkeley officials, and hopes his university will be the first to sign up. Yet he readily acknowledges what Window Street Financial is up against.
“Endowments in general need to invest their capital in sure things,” he said. “Our barrier is trying to prove the model before conservative capital can move in.”