Third Sun History and Ohio University

Some time back in early 2003, Geoff and Michelle Greenfield agreed to be a case study “site” for a group of Ohio University Business School students. This meant that the students got a chance to study a real-world small business, with a view into all the challenges and triumphs of a start up. For Third Sun Solar, it meant getting some outside perspective on what they were doing, how they were doing it and what needed refining in order to succeed.

“Our first meeting with this group of 4 students was in the Attic loft room of our home, where we both had set up our desks and were running the business”, says Michelle. “It was a tight space – you could not fully stand up in half of the room and there were files and paper stacks all over the place. One of the students, who was sitting on the floor, bravely asked us if we ever had trouble or found it distracting to work from this cramped space”. Looking around them, Geoff and Michelle did acknowledge that this office was not ideal, especially if they were going to grow, add some employees, meet with clients or need a warehouse.

Thinking About Growth

The students then suggested that the Greenfields look into the new Innovation Center that Ohio University was in the process of constructing on West State Street in Athens. They knew about the Innovation Center, because they were in the process of working with the university to install a solar array on that very building. After meeting with the director, Linda Clark, and being accepted as a “tech” company that met the incubator standards, the Greenfields made the move into one of the smallest offices that the Innovation Center had available.

“Stepping outside the house and actually starting to pay rent and adding overhead, was scary at first,” said Geoff. “But the benefits ended up far outweighing the costs.” Those benefits included the ability to have a dedicated business space, access to amenities like a copier and a separate business mailing address, interaction on a regular basis with other entrepreneurs and access to small business counseling resources that the Innovation Center and the University provided. The biggest benefit was yet to come: a path to adding employees to the team.

Moving to Ohio University Innovation Center

Moving to the Ohio University Innovation Center (IC), where Third Sun Solar remained housed for 8 years, enabled the company to grow, add employees, add warehouse space and receive the assistance needed to put the company on strong footing. Over the years at the IC, the company moved to many different offices, larger and larger spaces, and finally multiple offices that comprised the end of one of the wings of the building. When the IC warehouse space became available, Third Sun Solar was able to bring its inventory on site, rather than using vendors and storage units to hold product.

Third Sun Solar became the site for many OU student groups and case studies, from the marketing department to the management school and entrepreneurship classes. During this period, the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at OU was growing and adding services. They began to oversee on the Small Business Development Center and the PTAC (Procurement Technical Assistance Center) and added a new entity called TechGrowth which provides assistance and funding to early stage businesses. Third Sun Solar was able to access business assistance and services from all of these entities and saw great benefits to these partnerships.

Lessons Learned

“One thing that Geoff and I have learned over the years in business is to reach out to and learn from all the advisors that are out there for small businesses”, commented Michelle. “Our connection to the Innovation Center, Ohio University and the Voinovich Center has helped Third Sun Solar with outside experts to help address challenges, give perspective and be cheerleaders for the business”. The “entrepreneurial ecosystem” in Athens County is strong and is one of the reasons that Third Sun Solar has remained headquartered in Athens, even as the company has grown, working all over Ohio and the Midwest.

After moving from the Innovation Center into its current space on West Union St. in Athens, Third Sun Solar still enjoys a great relationship with Ohio University and its business outreach services. The Greenfields extend a big “Thank You” to everyone that has worked with the company over the years to help this homegrown Athens County business to grow and thrive but remain rooted in the Athens community.

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