“I’d love to say we had all this planned from the beginning, but we didn’t,” Stephanie Hollis said. “If you told me years ago this is where we would be, I would call you crazy.”
It all started over 20 years ago on a small sailboat where power had to be generated for refrigeration, communication equipment, and lighting, but was difficult due to the lack of space aboard. Thus, Hollis’ husband Brian Bosley, created the first Solar Stik system which was a lightweight, freestanding solar and wind turbine power generation platform that could be mounted to the boat’s transom or deck.
Based on that design, three original Solar Stiks were assembled and put into use, each one logging thousands of miles at sea and producing reliable power aboard in remote anchorages.
After the success of the Marine Solar Stik, Bosley decided to adapt the design for use on land, opening a new venue for the product.
“I told him find something that lights you up and go do it and my only stipulation was you have to enjoy whatever it is you’re doing,” Hollis said. “He loves sailing, so I thought he would get a job working on boats. Instead, he decided he wanted to start a company and we were both very naive. Neither one of us had business training at all.”
In 2005, Solar Stik – the company – began operating out a single room, still managing to be the only business in the world to offer that kind of portable power generation.
“It was a battle, one step, one month and one year at a time trying to create a successful product and company and doing the best you can with what you’re given,” Hollis said.
Alongside her husband, Hollis is co-founder and COO of their market leading company that specializes in designing and manufacturing portable, expeditionary hybrid power solutions. These solutions enable self-sufficiency for military and commercial users around the globe.
Solar Stik’s mission is to change lives, save lives and revive American manufacturing.
What sets Solar Stik apart?
After witnessing its decline, Solar Stik knew how they could help bring American manufacturing back to life.
“When we started, we knew we wanted to leave a mark and have an impact, locally and globally as much as we could. We said if we make a product that is 100 percent made in America, on some level we will start to change that narrative and we can be responsible for a piece of that,” Hollis said. “The more successful we are, the more successful our suppliers will be and so on. They will have to hire more people, they will grow as we grow. It’s a great cycle.”
Although many aspects set them apart from their competition, their main differentiator is their innovative products, extreme customer service and how long they’ve been in the business.
“We manufacture portable power systems so helping you wherever you typically need power when there is no grid or outlet that you can plug into,” she said. “The old solution used to be a gas generator and that’s all you had to choose from. Our products that we make and create and continue to innovate, making it extremely efficient and effective or eliminating the gas generator all together. Our products let you rely on solar panels, batteries, computerized systems to make all that work as effectively as possible.”
The Solar Stik 200, 400, and Breeze provide photovoltaic (PV) and wind power generation anywhere in the world.
“The robust design allows for long-term deployments into remote, austere locations around the globe and requires no routine maintenance,” Hollis said. “The portable, compact footprint of each system allows one person to set it up in minutes, so no tools are required.”
Hollis says their main customer base is military and foreign governments, where power is essential.
“There is no steady grid in most places other than America, so our products let the soldiers power everything they need to power to complete their mission,” she said. “Our goal is to help those soldiers or diplomats, or missionaries complete their missions.”
The Solar Stik Portable Remote Operation Inverter/Charger (PRO-Verter) is a single point of power management, control, and distribution to a battery-based circuit. The original PRO-Verter was developed for the U.S. Army and is the primary power-management component in a hybrid power system.
“It handles load prioritization, records system status, charges the battery bank, powers AC loads using energy stored in the batteries, and maximizes generator output while minimizing generator run time,” she said, “It’s really the brain of the system”.
“When you get soldiers that come back from fighting in the war and tell you your product was the difference between life and death, like when your product allowed them to use the surveillance systems that let them see where the enemy was, it’s a realization that I can’t describe,” Hollis said. “It’s immense, but that’s our mission.”
Lastly, their Renewable Equipped Vending machines were designed to run purely off solar input and energy storage. These vending machines offer multiple advantages, like eliminating the need to run long extension cords for power and being able to provide them anywhere the sun shines.
Solar Stik has applied for six patents to protect the unique architecture of the REV systems, which have been deployed at popular places such as Disney, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and SeaWorld.
Creating the product is first, and just as important to Solar Stik, is delivering them with quality and practicing tremendous customer service.
“We answer the phones 24/7 and our customer support is extreme. Our goal is to keep our clients on mission. It goes a long way when you care for your customers,” she said. “We test everything that goes out the door and have a 0 percent tolerance for failure. Our battery must work every time. Focusing on doing things the right way and treating our customers like we’d like to be treated, is part of our competitive edge.”
What is it like to work at SolarStik?
After their first big contract with the Rapid Equipping Force in 2011, Solar Stik grew from a one-room start-up to a 20-person team with a manufacturing facility in only a few short years. Although the initial growth spurt was exciting, Hollis and Bosley found that, when the dust settled, their departments had become segregated.
“We needed direction and a fresh start, so we attended Dave Ramsey’s Entreleadership Training and reshaped our company. With our mission clearly defined, we refocused on our original core values of teamwork, compassion, integrity, quality, and being American made,” Hollis said. “From that point on, we no longer had employees, we became team members.”
After the training, Solar Stik instituted a no-gossip policy and had their team members participate in routine EntreLeadership training as well.
“Our culture thrives on the compassion and respect our Team Members have for each other. We push each other to reach high, we laugh out loud, and we turn out in force when help is needed,” she said. “We have high standards for the products we make because we have high standards for ourselves.”
To further enhance the family like environment that can be felt at Solar Stik, they hold monthly ‘All Hands’ meetings to celebrate achievements, provide quarterly sales, share stories of the past and reinforce goals for the future.
“Everyone is equally as important, and everyone matters. When Brian and I take a profit, the team also gets a share. We don’t have managers, we have leaders; we don’t have employees, we have team members,” she said. “They serve an important role in making this company successful and they get to share in the success, which is awesome!”
Solar Stik is also committed to impacting the next generation and bring on interns from various engineering schools to add to their team.
When it comes to the challenges Solar Stik has faced since inception, Hollis says their greatest challenge going forward is operating in the military and government sectors.
“It is very bureaucratic,” she said. “It takes a lot of investing, travel and development without assurance there will be a contract at the end, so our biggest challenge is continuance of order.”
From the very beginning, Hollis says that cash flow always posed its own obstacles as well.
“Ten years ago, there were three of us, none of us were getting paid, we were incredibly in debt and that made for some tough conversation around the dinner table. There is a tremendous amount of investment required to make this where we are today,” she said. “Our R&D department requires a lot of money because we are constantly innovating and revising and improving what we build. We are never satisfied, and we never say, “that’s the best it’s going to get,” because that will be the start of the end of Solar Stik.”
Hollis said things never necessarily gets easier when new challenges coming each year, but your perspective changes.
“Easy would be boring, you get greater opportunities to learn and stretch more and achieve more and do better,” she said. “But at the end of the day, my goal is how did I do yesterday and how can I be better today.”
Looking toward the future, Solar Stik is positioned to keep growing.
“We’ve secured more property behind us to expand and grow. Our properties are in a disadvantaged area in the St. Augustine community and we look to improve the area we are in. Being able to make a mark in the community is important to us,” she said.
What it Means to be an Honoree
As a 2019 GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch honoree, Hollis says the award is great way to validate all their hard work over the years.
“It’s always an honor when we are recognized for what we’ve done,” she said. “We fly under the radar and we’re not really comfortable with reaching out for accolades, so we are always honored when we get recognized for the team we have.”
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
When asked what advice she for other aspiring entrepreneurs that may be on the same path as her and her husband, she said no matter where you are, always continue learning.
“We encourage people to always keep learning which falls on you after college,” she said. “No one will follow you around to teach you how to be a better business owner and you might find out the hard way if your business suffers.”
Notable Community Involvement
With compassion as a core value, the Solar Stik team is frequently donating their time, resources, and money to various organizations in their community.
They have donated large quantities of equipment to medical mission locations to help set up health clinics in tribes in Africa, where there is no power for refrigerating vaccines or to do telemedicine with a provider half way around the world.
“We are realizing that with the products that Brian helped create, we can have a huge impact on the whole world when it comes to power,” she said.
They are also heavily involved with National MS Society, fundraising for the organization for the past 6 years, where they were named top fundraiser and now are the event sponsor. Solar Stik also donates supplies to local elementary schools, the Foster/Adoptive Parents Association and multiple post-disaster relief efforts.
In 2013, Solar Stik donated a $200,000 hybrid solar power system to a remote South Sudanese clinic devastated by fire. The 3,000-watt hybrid power system generates the power Dr. Jill Seaman and the ASMP volunteers need to provide health services to the people of the region.