Darren “Success built on CEO work ethic”

Sopogy's founder in the Honolulu Advertiserbz Print this Printable version E-mail this E-mail this story

Posted on: Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Success built on CEO’s work ethic

By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer

Darren T. Kimura in the production area of Energy Industries
Darren Kimura, CEO of Energy Industries, amid some of the equipment and supplies in his company’s warehouse.BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser
“It was a true startup business. You would work your project at night and work in the office during the day, doing accounting, doing sales, doing the marketing, calling people back. And then you would do it all over again.”Darren Kimura | CEO of Energy Industries
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Darren Kimura was forced to work out of his Chevy Blazer when he started his first company as a 19-year-old University of Hawai’i freshman.

The Blazer needed a brake job, and Kimura would worry that he might not be able to bring the vehicle to a stop. But the car and Kimura survived, and there has since been no slowing down for the 32-year-old Hilo native, who has seen his business grow from a one-man operation to a multimillion-dollar, global company.

Kimura is chief executive officer of Energy Industries, which does energy savings, consulting and engineering work from its offices in Mapunapuna. Energy Industries has clients across the country and in Asia, from utility companies to large retail chains such as Fred Meyer.

Kimura’s first job brought in $50,000, and he said his company now does “just below” $50 million in annual gross revenues. But Kimura wants more.

“I’d like to see it in the $200 million range. I think we’re getting there,” he said.

And based on the growth of his company during its first 14 years, there’s no doubt in Kimura’s mind that he’ll reach that goal.

“Energy prices are going up. No one in the world believes energy prices are going to go down, or be like it was back in the ’80s. We will always have motivated customers, and we’re in a global business, so there are always people hurting because of energy, and we want to help them,” Kimura said.

To say that Kimura loves his work would be an understatement. He has no hobbies, except for whatever his 2-year-old daughter enjoys, and he burns lots of energy.

“When I first went to work in my crossover from (Waiakea) high school to freshman year, I had three jobs. I had to put myself through college,” Kimura said. “I used to rake the field at Rainbow Stadium. I worked at the information and computer sciences lab, and I worked at Macy’s selling shoes. I did whatever I could to keep myself going. So when I started the business, it was no difference in routine. It was just hard work.”

Kimura’s first company was an Internet service provider, which he started in 1992. As the popularity of the Internet grew, Kimura realized more energy was being consumed because there were more computers, air conditioners to keep them cool, and more concrete structures to house the equipment.

Two years later, Kimura formed Energy Conservation Hawai’i. He went to prospective customers and told them how they could save money by saving energy. His first client was his church in Hilo, where he consolidated its electricity meters and changed the church’s lights.

“The first year we struggled. It was just me, working out of my dorm room as well as my parents’ home in Hilo and out of my car, really kind of a road warrior back then,” Kimura said. “It was a true startup business. You would work your project at night and work in the office during the day, doing accounting, doing sales, doing the marketing, calling people back. And then you would do it all over again. But I think that’s one of the things about being an entrepreneur.”

After earning a business degree, Kimura left for Portland State University in 1996 and took his business with him. He continued his studies and also built a base of customers in the Northwest. He returned to Hawai’i in 1997 and opened his offices in Mapunapuna. The company has grown steadily since and employs more than 120.

Energy Industries works with hotels, businesses and schools to help them save energy. On average, Kimura said his company saves hotels up to 50 percent on their energy bills and a typical office building between 30 percent and 35 percent.

The company also partners with utilities, including Hawaiian Electric Co., to help them with their consumer rebate programs.

“It was more a matter of why they should give more incentives, what could be derived from that. Like, by giving a dollar more, you’ll get $5 million in demand savings or offsetting future generations,” Kimura said. “They were very receptive. Utilities in general like demand-side management, or energy conservation by businesses, because it helps them reduce their existing load, and it’s an immediate thing.”

Energy Industries also has worked with the University of Hawai’i in its energy-savings program. Last year the company donated equipment and manpower to help retrofit a dormitory with energy-efficient lights.

Stephen Meder, director of the UH Center for Smart Building and Community Design, said Kimura saved the university thousands of dollars.

“We got to the point where we didn’t have any (money) left. We were talking to Darren Kimura about it and Darren said, ‘Look, I’m a UH grad and I want to help with this. Let me allow my company to help.’ ” Meder said. “He’s a real champion for these needed issues.”

Energy Industries has grown from just a consulting firm to doing the project engineering and contracting. The company also has gotten into the “smart building” concept where air conditioning and lighting systems are controlled by computers.

Kimura is never satisfied with his company just doing well, and is constantly trying to stay ahead in the energy technology field. This year he formed Sopogy Inc., a renewable-energy company that Kimura says will convert heat from the sun into electricity on a large-scale basis.

Despite the company’s growth, Kimura said he has no plans to relocate to the Mainland.

“Our operations are probably larger in total outside of Hawai’i, but being in Hawai’i, you get a lot of hard work ethic, you have a lot of the aloha spirit, and that brings together teamwork, cohesiveness, and I think we achieve our goals more effectively,” Kimura said. “And the best part is, we bring all that revenue back to Hawai’i.”

Darren in Hawaii Business Magazine

12 People with 12 Big Ideas

 

Energy
Daren Kimura
President, CEO and Chairman of Sopogy Inc.

There is no one technology that will solve all that ails us.

But if we take wind and combine it with photovoltaic and hydro-generation, and combine that with traditional generation, now you have gotten ourselves into a situation where the cost of generation goes down because we are no longer tied to fossil fuels and we have a reduction in greenhouse gases.

There are things in place to get us there. The state has enacted what’s called a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which put a mandate on the utilities that a percentage of their generation come from renewable resources Ð 20 percent by 2020 is the goal. The challenge is that our RPS is not defined as in other states. For instance, most utilities give their consumers the opportunity to pay a penny or two more to buy their power from green energy sources. That penny or two more then goes back to the green energy project developer to help incentivize the development and expansion of his project. That option is not available here yet. Because it all starts with money. Once you have the capital available, anything is possible. You can build a large wind farm. You can build solar farm.

It also takes having the early adopters come into the market and take the risk and demonstrate the model. The entrepreneurs. And having some of the more prominent leaders do something about it. When you have one or two successful demonstrations of how the model works, it is easy for everyone to say, “Hey these guys did it, let’s do it.” We also need public awareness, because the public can apply pressure to the government, the utilities and the Public Utilities Commission.

If we can figure out a way to insulate ourselves and lower energy costs, we stand a better chance as a society of giving people a better way of life. Maybe people can cut back on that second job and spend more time with their kids. This is the kind of thing that drives me. ÐAs told to SR

Darren in Hawaii Tribune Herald

Thursday, August 9, 2007 11:03 AM HST

CEO of renewable energy firm found his calling at an early age
by Bret Yager
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
 

 

 Darren Kimura learned early to use his imagination.

Growing up in Hilo, the emerging renewable energy entrepreneur didn’t have much entertainment to distract him.

“A lot of successful business people come from Hilo,” he said. “The key about Hilo is you go out and make something happen.”

Kimura, 32, is president, CEO and chairman of Sopogy Inc., which the state in June approved for $10 million in special purpose revenue bonds for a new solar farm power plant in West Hawaii.

Kimura has been passionate about renewable energy since his teen and college years. He spent that time founding two energy and communication companies and teaching computers to Waiakea Intermediate School faculty.

And Kimura intends, in a modest way, to take over the world, applying the “make it happen” philosophy to a 15-hour work day that centers entirely around renewable energy, infants and home life.

He used to surf at Honolii. Surfing was one of the first things to go. He doesn’t watch TV or go out to movies anymore.

“It comes down to priorities,” he said. “Always the most important thing to me has been my family, and business. Anything that doesn’t fit into that is no longer around.”

 
 

Kimura founded Energy Industries when he was 19. Fourteen years later, the energy solutions company is on the cutting edge of renewable energy research and engineering, with 12 offices and more than 200 employees in the U.S., Guam and Hong Kong.

Kimura founded Energy Laboratories in 2000 to expand and diversify Energy Industries. He describes the company as a place where energy innovations can incubate until they are ready for the market. The company has more than 20 such concepts in incubation and has turned nine others into multi-million dollar companies geared at solving energy problems.

The top earner garners $50 million in annual revenue. All of the companies started in Hawaii.

Kimura attended Waiakea High, the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he studied business, and Portland State University, where he studied electrical engineering. He started Energy Industries here in Hilo while on summer break from Manoa.

From there, Kimura’s resume of start-ups begins to resemble that of a tycoon. In 1996, he created Energy Conservation in Hawaii; in 1998, Pacific Energy Services; in 2000, eCONTROLS; in 2001, EnergySmart; in 2003, Lighting and Electrical Company; in 2004, Facility Solutions. In 2006, he acquired Quantum Lighting and Quantum Energy.

Kimura lives on Oahu now, but both he and his wife, Kelly, are from Hilo. Kimura attended Waiakea Intermediate School, where he was a computer geek. He remembers enjoying the contact with nature: Camping, hiking, fishing and scouting. He wasn’t an exceptional student, he says. He attributes his success to what he calls “laser beam focus.”

After all, you have to eat your Wheaties if you want to wean a state of its dependency on foreign oil. Kimura sees that as a personal quest.

“I want energy independence for Hawaii,” Kimura said. “It’s a big task, and I want to do it in my generation. We’re 89 percent dependent on foreign oil.”

Sopogy Inc. today offers new concentrated solar power collectors to generate electricity and air conditioning, industrial steam and agricultural drying, with the potential for creating drinking water from evaporated sea water along the way. Kimura is still working to shrink the technology down to where it can be used by individual households.

“The markets we can go after now are the larger businesses and utilities,” he said.

Kimura’s new 3,000-reflector solar farm, under the name Keahole Solar Power, will be built on six acres at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority in Kona. Capable of producing a megawatt of electricity and powering 500 homes, the $8 million project will likely be online by July 2008, Kimura said. The farm will be able to produce electricity about 25 percent more cheaply than conventional means, he said.

Keahole Solar Power is in the design phase, about a month away from breaking ground if its permits come through.

“The good thing about solar is it’s typically a lot faster to construct; you’re dealing with traditional metal, glass and concrete, and you’re not dealing with rare or toxic materials,” Kimura said. “This is a good project and we want it to happen as soon as possible.”

In addressing climate change, energy security and sustainability, Kimura can’t say enough about solar. Its production cycle meshes perfectly with the human use cycle, he says, and on the sunny west side of the island, solar is very cost effective, even if it’s less so in the rainy and cloudy east side climate.

Kimura said the Big Island’s efforts at geothermal and wind-powered ventures are a step in the right direction. But with fossil fuels dwindling and global warming looming, renewable energy is not just an option, but a growing imperative to Kimura.

“Renewable energy is good for the environment, the pocketbook and society,” he said. “These are the kinds of things we have to do now. The incentives are there. There is no better time to go green.”

Bret Yager can be reached at byager@hawaiitribune-herald.com