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How one solar energy company grew from $3 million in revenue to $38 million in five years using the Scaling Up platform

By Verne Harnish

Running a solar energy company in a northern state like Minnesota isn’t easy but Impact Power Solutions (IPS) has pulled it off for 30 years. The company, based in Roseville, Minn., develops, installs and manages solar systems for commercial customers and community institutions. 

CEO Jamie Borell and his team are scaling the company rapidly, in partnership with private equity firm SmartPitch Ventures in Fairfax, Va. Revenue at the 25-person company grew from $3 million in 2015 to $35 million in 2016 and $38 million in 2020. 

Along the way, the company installed more than 1,500 projects in the Upper Midwest. It has been named to Solar Power World magazine’s Top 500 Solar Contractors list for seven consecutive years and has won the magazine’s award for the greenest contractor. 

Greg Eisen, a Scaling Up certified coach, helped the team put the right systems in place for growth. “Greg has really been a great resource for our business,” says Borell. “He’s made my life a lot easier.”

IPS now aims to hit $50 million in annual revenue for 2021 and $65 million for 2022. Here is how the company has positioned itself to scale up at age 30.

Changing up the leadership team

Working with Eisen to make sure the right people were in the right seats on the bus has been critical for IPS. “We were a small shop, and we were somewhat unorganized in terms of the management structure and philosophy,” says Borell. 

After considering where each team member could make the greatest impact, the leadership team shifted key team members into new roles. Borell, who’d been the COO, became CEO. Ralph Jacobson, the former CEO, became chief innovation officer. 

Meanwhile, the company made strategic hires such as chief operating officer Eric Hanson. “Eric has been leading us to new markets across the country,” says Borell. IPS also hired Evan Carlson, director of land & legal. “He has led our team to be super successful in Minnesota,” says Borell. 

To build a strong culture at IPS, the leadership team has focused on aligning IPS around its Purpose—“to impact people, power and the planet with solar energy.” The company has reinforced its Core Values by creating movie posters to share with their team. For one value, “Making a mudslide shine,” the poster holds the subtitle, “Fear can hold you prisoner. Hope can set you free.”  

IPS also started a “culture club.” Everyone on the team has been invited to suggest an initiative they wanted the company to take on, such as adopting a trail or working for a volunteer organization. “The club is bringing new initiatives to the company,” says Borell.

To reinforce the Core Values further, the company has also held a contest in which team members could nominate peers who embody each value. The honorees received gift cards. 

Keeping the team aligned

To get everyone on the same page when it comes to strategy, Borell and his leadership team hold daily huddles precisely at 2:32 p.m. Other team members attend weekly huddles and monthly companywide meetings, as well as one-on-ones with their direct supervisors. 

Once a year, the leadership team holds an annual meeting with Eisen. As part of their work, they have completed the One-Page Strategic Plan, which they have shared with the entire team. “We revised it once and will revise it on an annual basis,” says Borell. “We talk about it in the monthly meetings. We’re making sure we’re very transparent in what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Keeping a keen eye on execution 

IPS serves three key main groups of stakeholders: B2B customers who purchase rooftop solar systems, subscribers to its community solar gardens looking to save on energy costs, and land owners, who lease land to the company. The leadership team has been working with Eisen to make sure the company is keeping its Brand Promise to each. 

“They each have their own overarching concerns and priorities,” says Borell. “We’re now deciding if there need to be three separate Brand Promises or one overarching one.”  

Borell and his team track how the company is doing by monitoring new business in its sales funnel and its Net Promoter Score frequently. The NPS is a measure of how willing a customer would be to recommend you to someone else.  

Prioritizing cash flow 

Impact Power Solutions does cash-intensive work in construction and development, and managing cash flow has been essential. To that end, the leadership team holds weekly cash flow meetings to track key metrics, such as EBITDA.

Doing the Power of One exercise from Scaling Up: Rockefeller Habits 2.0 has been critical. The exercise looks at the benefit to cash if a 1% change is made to any of the seven levers that influence it, such as price, volume and accounts receivable.  “We are paying attention to cash daily,” says Borell.

All of these steps take time, but Borell and his team believe that investment is well worth it. “We have guns ablazing and are looking forward to growing the company and scaling up,” says Borell.

Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish
Verne Harnish is founder of the world-renowned Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) and chaired for fifteen years EO’s premiere CEO program, the “Birthing of Giants” and WEO’s “Advanced Business” executive program both held at MIT. Founder and CEO of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company with over 150 coaching partners on six continents, Verne has spent the past three decades helping companies scale-up. The “Growth Guy” syndicated columnist, he’s also the Venture columnist for FORTUNE magazine. He’s the author of Scaling Up (Rockefeller Habits 2.0); Mastering the Rockefeller Habits; and along with the editors of Fortune, authored The Greatest Business Decisions of All Times," for which Jim Collins wrote the foreword. Verne also chairs FORTUNE Magazine’s annual Leadership and Growth Summits and serves on several boards including chairman of The Riordan Clinic and the newly launched Geoversity. He is an investor in many scale-ups. A father of four, he enjoys piano, tennis, and magic as a card-carrying member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.