Arkansas’ Seal Energy Solutions at home in Argenta
September 3-9, 2018
By Becca Bona
Josh Davenport, Co-Founder and CEO of Seal Energy Solutions (SEAL) never imagined his career in general contracting would lead him to help build a company focused on providing energy solutions to clients.
A North Little Rock native, Davenport was working with his father at Davenport Contracting, Inc. (DCI), when a new opportunity came his way in 2012.
“I ran into a lady by the name of Tammy Agard with the Clinton Foundation,” he remembers. “She said they were looking for a general contractor for a program called HEAL – Home Energy Affordability Loan.”
HEAL was an employer-sponsored “energy benefits” program which brought energy efficiency and sustainable practices to the workplace. The program was being incubated within the Clinton Climate Initiative at the Clinton Foundation.
Even though Davenport’s entire background was in commercial construction – he was intrigued. He got certified and decided he would work with the Foundation as a side-gig while keeping his day job.
He found working with residential clients to be “a breath of fresh air” from some of the snafus he encountered in commercial construction. Clients were excited to analyze their space for ways to save money to improve the energy efficiency of their home – whether they were concerned with their environmental footprint or just wanted control over their bills – and Davenport found learning about it interesting.
He didn’t know it at the time, but he essentially signed up for a budding business that would require a partner.
That’s where Heather Nelson comes in, Co-Founder, President, and Chief Operating Officer of Seal Energy Solutions. Their connection comes through family, although distantly. Nelson met Josh’s father Ken years earlier at a family reunion. They kept in touch, and as she was about to make a big career shift, had a fateful lunch with Ken.
“I was hoodwinked,” says Nelson, laughing. “The official story is that I never said yes [to the job], but here I am.”
During that lunch, Ken talked about Josh’s new business idea and how she needed to get involved. In fact, after that very lunch, Nelson met with Josh.
“I told him, ‘This is a great idea, and it’s needed … but you don’t need me, just do it,” she says, remembering. “Anyway, long story short, I never said yes, but here I am.”
From the ground-up
Back then, Nelson and Davenport knew they had a good idea, but didn’t know just how good it was.
They worked from a make-shift office in a borrowed conference room with their personal computers, racking up long hours into the night before they came to a realization.
Nelson remembers telling Davenport, “You’re going to have to do this full-time. We both are.”
As 2012 wound down, the company opened its doors as an official business, and those first months were busy.
“It was an absolute whirlwind because [Josh] was in the middle of a bunch of construction projects with DCI, he had a six-month-old as well as a wife who also had a growing career. I was tying up loose strings at my previous job, and it was unbelievable us both working to wind our previous responsibilities down as we were building a new company from the ground-up,” Nelson remembers.
SEAL was birthed out of a need of the Clinton Foundation to have a for-profit partner, but it wasn’t long before Nelson and Davenport realized they needed to move from subbing out 100 percent of the work to bringing some of it in-house by hiring and training their own crews.
“We first brought energy retrofits in-house and then we started looking at doing energy assessments in-house. We ended up acquiring a company that just did energy assessments, and that allowed us to do everything on the energy efficiency side in-house,” says Davenport.
Energy retrofits, AKA energy remodels, come after completing a full energy assessment on a space – these can be done on businesses, homes, or farms. The retrofit address the recommendations or issues found during the assessments. Changes will increase a client’s monetary savings when it comes to energy usage. That could mean sealing up a leaky duct system, adding insulation, switching to LED lights, adding a more efficient furnace or air conditioner, as well as installing solar panels, and much more.
When SEAL conducts an energy assessment, they come at the space with a holistic approach, which also eventually led the company to include their own HVAC services, as well.
“[O]nce you’re in someone’s home, they have questions about their heating and air, and we were subbing all of that work out, but it was hard to schedule, causing a burden on the customer,” Davenport notes.
All the while, the company continued to invest in their growing employee base.
“We’ve paid 100 percent of training for our entire team since we’ve started the company,” says Nelson, “and that was a real critical investment for us. We made a real conscious choice to invest in the development of our team. […] On top of that, what makes our team special in our industry is that from the top-down starting with Josh, they are all really curious.”
Every change has led the team to become what they are now – a niche energy solutions firm serving Arkansas.
Timing is everything, and SEAL popped up in the right place at the right time.
Solar is on the rise across the state, which reflects the national stage – as solar energy options are becoming cheaper than natural gas.
California’s Energy Commission recently passed a mandate that all new construction homes will have to have solar roof panels by 2022. As with anything trending nationally, it works its way across the nation, and Davenport is excited to see how technology will be incorporated into the existing infrastructure locally.
“The struggle here in Arkansas is, how do you integrate new technology into an old grid? That’s not an easy answer. I think the Arkansas Public Service Commission and the utilities are working on that,” says Davenport. “The big driver is technology – there’s stuff coming out every day that can change this industry really, really fast.”
Nelson agrees, adding that half of SEAL’s mission remains focused on educating the citizens of Arkansas about the benefits of energy efficiency and solar solutions.
The team created a hashtag – #SolarIsForEveryone – which encompasses the company’s goal to educate their target market on pricing, as solar is now affordable for everyone from homeowners to commercial businesses and farmers.
“It’s not like anybody out there is denying that solar is cost-effective or that it is the way of the future, yet we’re still fighting that perception. It’s not widely known yet how accessible and affordable solar is here in Arkansas,” says Nelson. “We like to say 50 percent of our employee’s day is spent educating our customers on anything from energy efficiency to solar because there’s a learning curve that we need to overcome in the marketplace. In some ways that is the best part of our job.”
Progress can be seen locally in the recent partnership between Seal Energy Solutions and LightWave Solar. The two companies are teaming up to meet the growing demand for large solar energy solutions in Arkansas from municipalities, universities and large commercial projects. The two boast of a portfolio brimming with large, diverse solar projects, but most importantly, Davenport sees this as a win-win for everyone.
“Seal Energy Solutions and LightWave Solar have a lot in common in that each company has an excellent reputation for putting quality work and customer service first,” says Davenport. “LightWave adds a depth of experience for large-scale projects, and Seal Energy Solutions has a recognized commitment to quality and deep Arkansas ties going back more than six generations.”
The President of LightWave Solar Chris Koczaja adds, “We are leveraging our collective strengths to provide the best overall customer value to Arkansas. Our firms believe that together we can move the solar industry in Arkansas forward – delivering a level of quality, choice, and experience not currently available.”
As for the immediate future, Davenport is glad that SEAL calls Argenta home.
“I’m currently a board member of the Argenta Downtown Council, and we’ve just seen an unbelievable amount of growth. […] Argenta specifically has become this little mecca for entrepreneurs, artists and tech firms.”
For now, SEAL will keep on finding ways to stay dynamic, as Nelson adds, “I think on our best days we’re engaged with feeling like we’re really making a difference in our community and our state.”
For more information about Seal Energy Solutions, energy assessments, energy retrofits, HVAC or solar, visit http://sealsolar.com/.
Local company Seal Energy Solutions offers a holistic approach to any space – be it a farm, business or residence – when it comes to energy assessments and lowering your bill. This week we talked with the leaders of the company, touching on everything from their humble beginnings to the future of solar in the state. (Photos provided)