Cici Wang ’21
Internship: Sunforge, Somerville, Massachusetts
Hometown: Syracuse, New York
Favorite Yale SOM Class: Tie between Yale Center for Customer Insights and Operations
Clubs and affiliations: Forte Fellow, Center for Business and Environment at Yale (CBEY) research assistant for Ken Gillingham, Green Engineering and Sustainable Design TA, Operations TA, Design & Innovation Club, Future of Mobility Club
Favorite New Haven eatery: Not in New Haven exactly, but Koi Sushi in East Haven and Sushi Palace in Hamden for all-you-can-eat sushi!
Favorite Professor: Lorenzo Caliendo
Favorite Yale SOM community event: Star Search–who knew SOMers were so out of this world?
For 12 weeks this summer, I was a business development intern for a small solar startup called Sunforge, based out of Greentown Labs. Sunforge pioneered the first commercially available maximum power point tracking (MPPT) charge controllers that help photovoltaic systems extract the most power from the panels to optimally charge batteries in rapidly changing environmental conditions. They have two lines of solar charge controllers, Blue Sky Energy and Genasun, which are well suited to micromobility as well as other small, off-grid applications.
I was joined by two other interns who were focused on marketing and design and web development. Together, we increased the size of the small, 10-person company by 30%, which meant that we were able to have an outsized effect on the culture and interactions this summer in addition to having our work be immediately implemented and impactful.
I was in charge of two main projects for the summer:
- Market Sizing and Customer Acquisition strategies for Class 1 Division 2 (C1D2) Certified Products. C1D2 certification guaranties operational safety in environments with explosive vapors, and my job was to figure out if there is a market out there for C1D2 charge controllers, how big is it, who the customers are, and how we would target them. I had to both outline my plan to address these questions as well as execute it, with continual refinement as I learned things along the way. Much of the research included understanding the use cases of the certification, finding application industries and product applications, finding the overlap, and finding different channels to search for potential customers or partners. I was also able to have informational chats with a few experts in the oil and gas industry, which is a large target market for C1D2 products. Some of the deliverables from this project included an annotated bibliography of market studies and industry reports, creating a module and article for publication on the website, a list of viable customers, and an organized repository to document all my work.
- Expansion strategy for Waypoints. The Waypoint is a product under Bluesky Energy that allows for the management of connected devices through a single dashboard in addition to solar charging capabilities. Since the product was developed in partnership with Optio3, who focuses on the software side, I was able to work closely with the CEO, CFO, and VP of sales to learn about the product landscape and develop and execute a marketing strategy to grow the customer base in the transportation industry. The final product was a series of three videos that served the dual purpose of promoting the various capabilities and key differentiators of the product and being a form of audiovisual FAQ the inform interested customers. I had a lot of fun pulling on my design skill set in producing and editing the videos.
Additionally, outside of my formal tasks, I was also able to contribute to improving overall company operations and team culture. To improve interconnection and bring some joy and levity to the workday, we implemented a “Wall of Wins” where anyone could share small and big successes from work or in life. I also helped to document some operational and implementation processes to share knowledge, ease future on-boarding and hand-offs, and create a central repository for questions and wish-list ideas.
There were many opportunities to network this summer. Because of the small size of the company, everyone was super available and willing to share their time and expertise through one-on-one lunch chats or ad-hoc meetings. As a company, we also had a chance to discuss broader topics of racism and social injustice in our communities through a book club reading of The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.
As part of Greentown Labs (GTL), the largest cleantech incubator in North America, there many networking and learning opportunities available outside the company. Some of my favorite events included:
- “EnergyBar: Leading the Energy Transition Panel” with speakers from Chevron, NRG Energy, BHP, Shell, and Vinson & Elkins (M&A)
- “Customer Discovery: Everything You Know is Wrong” by Mitch Tyson of Clean Energy Venture Group
- Live interview with Jigar Shah, president and co-founder of Generate Capital and notable co-host of the Podcast Energy Gang
The biggest impact of COVID-19 was restrictions of in-person events and networking. Every summer there is a big cohort of interns for the hundred companies that share the GTL space, hosting tons of events with lots of delicious food. Although the GTL team did a great job in transitioning many of these events into a virtual format, I really missed the comradery and cross-pollination that would have come from sharing a physical space with my peers. My internship was fully remote, which made coming up to speed more arduous and required more intentional planning to get to know my peers and feel connected. The only time I was able to see anyone from the company in person was during a socially distant get together toward the end of summer to send off a departing co-worker, Rohit.
Overall, I really enjoyed my summer and learned a lot about planning and executing strategic business decisions about products and customers. Working at a small startup like Sunforge gave me lots of responsibilities and leeway to structure my own work and have an incredible amount of impact. I also had a valuable lens into the daily operations of a startup in the sustainability space, which helped me refine my long-term vision of being an entrepreneur in this space. Although the summer was full of uncertainty and external stressors, the mentors and friends I found at Sunforge and community Greentown Labs made it a great experience.
Inaugural Recipient of the LeBlanc ’98 Family Scholarship (2020)