Press Release Date:  06-15-01

Small Business Insights, Boston Business Journal 

Bright Idea - Synergy Investment helps companies save money by exerting less energy


FRAMINGHAM--Dan Gould wants to shed light on the issue of energy efficiency. It doesn't mean suffering, he says. "Efficiency really means you improve your output. You don't have to sacrifice. You can have better comfort and use less energy, and those benefits can also improve your bottom line."

Gould is the president and founder of Synergy Investments, an $8 million lighting and energy consulting company. He started Synergy in 1994 when his industry was focused only on energy savings. But Gould had the bright idea of focusing on quality lighting that balanced efficiency with aesthetics and effectiveness.

At age 25, Gould struck out on his own from Johnson Controls. But to tap the market that he estimates at $750 million, Gould realized he needed something more. "I was basically a little complacent because a one-person business was steady and it was a decent living. But you can only go so far with one person."

Gould, an electrical engineer by degree from Union College in New York state, immersed himself in learning the business of business through books and organizations. "If you want to shoot par in golf," he says, "you have to take lessons and then go apply them and continually strengthen the weakest part of your game."

Gould credits the Young Entrepreneurs Organization and the Birthing of Giants, a seminar for up-and-coming executives, for giving him the jolt he needed. "I wanted to meet people who were `kicking my butt' all over the place," he says.

Self-funded, Synergy now has a team of 24 people. The company will generate an estimated $12 million in sales this year and $100 million by 2004. Already, Synergy achieved one of Gould's personal goals by making Inc. magazine's "Inc. 500" list in 1999 and again in 2000.

Gould, older and wiser at 33, chuckles when he looks back at his early estimates for growth. "I thought I would get to a million dollars in sales, and then 5, and then 10." Not until he made $8 million last year did Gould realize "how little I knew about what it would take to get to that."

Now his days are spent on strategic planning, building his executive team, and maintaining corporate culture. His biggest challenges are managing growth and staying focused. "It's actually pretty simple when you get down to the fundamentals. The challenge is to be disciplined and stick to those fundamentals and to not get pulled into the day-to-day."

Efficiency Awakens Opportunity
Even in the shadow of a dark economy, Gould stands firm on his self-described aggressive goals. "My sense of the economy's effect on our business is that certain customers will put a hold on projects while other customers will awaken. If a real cost-cutting mentality permeates an organization, electric bills are a large part of that," says Gould.

And for Gould, a focus on energy savings would only be a good thing. "America needs to wake up and capture this incredible opportunity as a business in front of them--to improve the efficiencies in their buildings. No one is putting the connection together that it's a good business decision."

Edward McGlynn, manager of commercial programs in energy efficiency services at Nstar, a Boston-based gas and electric utility, agrees. "There is tremendous opportunity (to increase energy efficiency) for all customers from small mom-and-pop stores to large corporations. Even customers who we treated five to six years ago could benefit. Technology has changed since then."

Today, high-efficiency light sources, more advanced lighting designs and new lighting controls can reduce energy consumption and improve lighting quality.

For Dean Larson, vice president of property management at Boston Properties Inc., a real estate investment trust that owns and operates Class A office properties, the wake-up call was already there.

Numerous buildings in his company's portfolio had older lighting systems. The potential for savings, combined with Nstar rebate programs, prompted the REIT to retrofit, or upgrade, its lighting systems.

"We reviewed a number of companies, but after meeting with Dan Gould and Glenn MacKay, energy and lighting specialist at Synergy, we decided to engage them in the process. The fixtures that we chose for the project reduced the lighting energy 40 percent per fixture, and many of the projects had returns on investment at between 12 and 30 months. And that was prior to the increase in energy costs," says Larson.

Finding customers like Boston Properties is a year-long sales process that must bridge the gap between facilities management and senior management. It's a Catch-22, says Gould.  "When we talk to the CEO and CFO about the benefits, and we mention the word `lighting,' the knee-jerk reaction is `talk to our facilities department.' Yet, what happens is that the size of the project that we are talking about is typically a very large project for a facilities person."

Lighting retrofit projects can average about a dollar per square foot and can typically have a three-year simple payback. Even with the projected return on investment, that can be a budget-breaker for a facilities manager at a large company.

Senior management may be growing less reactive, says Nstar's McGlynn. "I think there is more awareness these days, because on a national level you see the crisis in California, the president is talking about it on TV, and the price of electricity is going up. In the years past, we've had the attention of the facilities manager, but now senior management sees the impact."

With slowly changing market perceptions and challenging goals for growth, Gould has his work cut out for him. Yet it's exactly these tests that he finds so engaging. "I have never been so challenged in my life, which is, I guess, what I find the most exhilarating part. Between the strategy of the business, the salesmanship both internal and external, the people challenges and the culture building, it's all exhilarating."

Author: Kimberly Nelson Hatfield   Special To The Journal
Source: Boston Business Journal - June 15, 2001 print edition

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