Meet Marti Hoffer, an enviropreneur whose passion for harnessing natural light to improve lives shines through in everything she does.
The founder of lumenomics, Inc., Marti is an alum of the 2014 Enviropreneur Institute, and the winner of this year’s Shark Tank competition. Our panel of judges – a venture capitalist, an enviropreneur, a conservation economist, and an environmental philanthropist – decided Marti’s project and pitch were the best to represent PERC’s Enviropreneur Institute at SXSW Eco in October. As a Springboard finalist for SWSW Eco 2014, we’re confident Marti and lumenomics will help people understand how enviropreneurs harness markets to enhance environmental quality.
Q. What was your very first job?
A: Pinning draperies. Working at Inside Outfitters, the company my dad started, I would use a small hand held tool to place pins in drapery. Envision using a stapler all day. You load staples and place the staple on the mark.
Q: What did you gain growing up working in the family business?
A: Looking back I have gained HUGE respect for entrepreneurs who create jobs – whether it’s three jobs or three thousand. Somebody has to want to get up EVERY day and create opportunity. I happened to grow up with both parents who worked for themselves their entire lives. Imagine generating your own pay check with benefits EVERY day.
Q: When you walk into a new room or town, what's the first thing you notice?
A: The architecture and use of natural light.
Editor’s Note: This is true. It’s why we asked the question. It’s also why we loved having Marti at the Enviropreneur Institute. Her passion for what she does was evident from the very start when she introduced herself by saying “My name is Marti Hoffer and lumenomics could reduce PERC’s electricity consumption for this room by 31,468 watts a year.”
Q: What is your vision for lumenomics?
A: lumenomics will employ the best people in communities internationally and work with owners to design, install, and maintain spaces that squeeze every drop of natural light into their built environment.
Q. You’re using new technology to satisfy increasing demand with a virtually limitless resource. The growth potential must be huge. How big is this sector of the economy?
A: Lighting is a $50 billion industry. At lumenonics, we focus on natural lighting design, a $200 million niche market. Some of my sector’s growth in recent years has been driven by energy regulations, but even setting regulatory compliance aside, daylight solutions have huge returns -- economic, aesthetic, and environmental. More and more people are simply choosing environmentally friendly construction, including natural light. I believe the future of daylight design is bright.
Q: What are some of your biggest challenges as a growing business?
A: Access to working capital and complying with regulation while competing with the leading brands.
Q. What -- in addition to your commitment to sunlight's energy efficiency and aesthetic value -- informs your business philosophy?
A: I like to keep the perspective that people want to work some place that’s about more than just earning a fair wage. People want a story that they can share in their community about who they are, what their company does, and what they do for the company. They want work that is meaningful and most people like to be challenged. To do meaningful work you need to have products – such as energy-saving window coverings or hybrid light technologies – that are serving real purpose in our every day lives.
Q. Why Seattle?
A: Why not Seattle?! Seattle has ocean, mountains, trees, mild temperatures, lots of opportunity... Actually, I moved here because Seatlle is on the cutting edge with lighting experts – like the researchers at University of Washington’s Daylighting Lab – who design with natural light and educate people about it. This is a technology town filled with early adopters who choose do the right thing with or without regulation, and independent of bottom-line ROI’s. If it serves the greater good and the environment, they do it.
Q: What was your biggest takeaway from the Enviropreneur Institute?
A: To be a steward of our environment and have longstanding impact, an entrepreneur must be able to translate a vision into a plan including the what, why, when, who, and how. To sustain the vision, an entrepreneur must find a way to generate a profit and create contracts that clarify ownership and responsibility – establishing clear incentives and transferable property rights.
Q: What surprised you most about your time in Montana?
A: I was overwhelmed by the earthly beauty of Montana in July. I decided right away to visit every year and found myself asking what is November through April like in Montana?
Editor’s Note: Montana can be cold and dark from November through April (much like Seattle), but it is often snowy and beautiful, offering winter wildlife, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and downhill sports.
Q: What are you most looking forward to at SXSW Eco?
A: I look forward to understanding what business models are successful and why. I’m interested in learning what the competitive landscape for lenders and investors looks like.
Q: What advice would you give to other enviropreneurs?
A: Keep getting vertical. Establish a board of advisors/directors and have regular meetings. Start with a financial forecast that is vetted by an experienced CFO, and make sure you include a reasonable salary to pay yourself and other key roles to ensure your ability to execute on the forecast. Write a business plan that properly capitalizes the company and stick to it unless your advisory board/BOD agrees to change the plan. Identify priority #1 and stay focused on priority #1 until it is achieved.
If you are an enviropreneur, consider joining Marti and PERC at SWSW Eco 2014, “one of the more eclectic mixes of start-ups, investors, tree huggers and policy wonks the world has yet dreamed up.” We look forward to connecting with other innovators and creators October 6-8 in Austin, Texas.