Imagine you've just graduated from school. Imagine you and your fellow grads have left the comfy confines of hallowed academia to face the real world of rising unemployment, declining personal income and a fearful economic wilderness.
That's the exact situation David Pollack found in May 2008. The native of El Dorado Springs, Mo., had just completed his B.S. in mechanical engineering at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla.
After taking a couple of well-deserved months to refresh himself from the study grind, David interviewed with a Florida engineering firm. His prospective boss offered a six-month assignment to transfer all the company's files from its old computer system to a new one. Sixty hours a week for six straight months of nothing but data entry. David passed on this mind-numbing duty.
Next, he interviewed with a Kansas engineering firm. The biggest part of the interview included loading a truck ... not usually an element of a typical job interview. David saw the writing on the wall and realized this opportunity also was not for him.
Soon after this second less-than-stellar offer David experienced an entrepreneurial revelation. From the earliest time David could remember, his father Stuart Pollack constantly talked about the challenges facing the energy industry: the limits of finite resources, the need for conservation and the prospects for alternative sources of energy. Also, after four years of study in Rolla, David had formed a solid network of colleagues and friends, many of whom were also in the same professional position — looking for work.
So, his revelation involved starting an energy-related business in Rolla. His goal for the firm, Cornerstone Energy Solutions LLC, is to focus on energy efficiency in residential, commercial and industrial settings.
"Before we as a nation look seriously to alternative forms of energy, we as consumers of energy need to first take the steps necessary to conserve energy by taking the time and effort to tackle the day-to-day problems associated with wasted energy," says David. "My company is designed to help our clients discover those energy conserving steps and put them into practice."
David and his staff at Cornerstone currently offer three avenues devoted to energy conservation. Their on-site services focus on analysis of a client's home or business. The analysis leads to recommendations for improving the energy efficiency of the structure.
Their training services — currently the firm's most lucrative focus — are designed to equip prospective energy analysis professionals with the skills they need. Cornerstone offers formal classes around the state for individuals, community action agencies, contractors and others. The sessions are offered through educational partnerships with universities, community colleges and vocational-technical institutions. Classes cover such areas as weatherization practices for technicians, OSHA construction safety, lead-safe worker practices and a BPI (Building Performance Institute Inc.) building analyst course for energy auditor certification.
The third revenue-generating focus of the company is its recent development of a do-it-yourself custom energy-saving kit. It offers several energy saving items in one handy container customized for the home. Included are materials to insulate a hot water heater, window and door gaskets and sealers, and faucet adapters and shower heads to conserve water flow.
"We're always looking for new ways to help clients improve energy efficiency," says David. "Our chief technician, Gary Chaney, has a lot of training and experience in the field. He's always looking for new ways to improve our services and the results for our clients."
Back in September 2008, when David's entrepreneurial ambitions blossomed, he needed two things: certified technical training in residential and commercial energy analysis and some capital to purchase necessary equipment. He found the technical training from the Tri-County Construction Labor Management Council in Peoria, Ill. This gave David the foundation necessary to successfully complete his BPI certification.
David needed another kind of training for raising the capital. To get the $4,500 equipment loan from a commercial lender he needed a business plan. To develop the business plan, he needed help. David found that help from Mick Gilliam, Small Business and Technology Development Center business specialist based at the Phelps County MU Extension SBTDC in Rolla.
"Mick gave me the steady, experienced hand I needed to take the steps to establish my business," recalls David. "I had the technical expertise to design and conduct the work of my business. I just didn't have the business knowledge I needed to get it off the ground and keep it running. Mick guided me expertly."
With the business plan in order, David obtained the needed equipment loan. Mick also helped the young engineer understand other critical financial, management and accounting elements necessary to run a business from day-to-day and week-to-week.
Cornerstone has been in operation since January 2009. It's making money, providing jobs and paying off the loan. It's doing so well, David is looking to the future, with the thought of franchising his business model.
"I have an appointment to talk to Mick about it next week," reports David. "I want to take my business to another level, so I'm planning to learn a lot more from his wealth of business know-how."