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Category: Innovation

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Small Business Week Kicks Off with a Boom!

Small BusinessHave you ever had an idea for a small business and thought, where on earth should I begin?! If so, you’ve likely had overwhelming thoughts about spreadsheets, accountants and tax consultants, whether or not to hire outside consultants to step in, or to hire within, or more likely you’ve thought to yourself: wow, this is going to be a lot for me to take on all by myself until I can afford to hire someone.

Don’t panic! We have all been there, and lucky for you, here at SUNTEX we have learned a few tricks of the trade on how best to solve these problems, before you throw your hands in the air, ready to give up before you ever even begin.

I’m reminded of an old adage that a former colleague shared with me once, that proved to be very useful in quelling those anxious thoughts about what comes next – it goes like this:

“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Of course, I would never actually eat an elephant, but as the following YouTube video explains, this saying is all about problem solving through means of setting one small, achievable goal at a time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZpAYmUpx44.

Another familiar and helpful saying I have had personal experience with which deals with this type of problem solving is: “Little by little”, or “Poco a poco.”

When I lived in Guatemala a few years ago – working in the health industry and attempting multiple USAID development projects at once – initially I thought I would drown in work. First I needed to find people willing to work with me, then train them in becoming health experts themselves, then perform an epidemiology report for the local health post of the town we were in (including participation from at least 10% of the total population), and finally implement USAID health projects geared towards addressing the most dire health concerns in the community, with the neediest of people.

Often, when I was feeling overwhelmed by it all – especially considering the emotional toll this work took on me and my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers daily – Guatemalans would tell me to slow down, and take things “poco a poco.”

Wouldn’t you know it, by the end of my service in just two years, I had trained 35 new Public Health Leaders in Basic Sanitation and Disease Prevention, we built 45 wood-burning stoves and supplied enough concrete for about 50 homes to add concrete floors in their kitchens (addressing public health concerns such as chronic pneumonia and poor sanitation in the kitchen). It’s safe to say that this process worked, as our testimony demonstrated, and I am so grateful to the Guatemalan people for teaching me this first-hand.

As a small business ourselves, we understand the difficulties sometimes associated with making headway on new initiatives or balancing priorities, and we’re here to help! After all, one thing that I think all businesses, no matter how big or small, can benefit from is the power of shared knowledge.

This week, we’ll hear from a few other sources on the Do’s and Don’ts of small business ownership, and how you can manage your workload as you navigate this tricky endeavor. So that you aren’t just taking our word for it, we’ll feature blog posts from others such as XX and YY. So be sure to check it out! You won’t want to miss it.

As always, if you have suggestions to add to this week’s topic yourself, be sure to post them in the comments section below – we love to engage with our audience and the more comments, the merrier.

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“Right to Capture State” – Part 2 of 2

Right to Capture: SolarSo, now that you’ve got your rainwater storage system set up from yesterday — great job on that by the way (!) — you’re ready to move on to step #2 in taking advantage of the ‘Right to Capture’ state laws, at least as they apply to solar energy. I preach to friends and family to ‘go solar’ if and when they can, because I genuinely believe in taking advantage of laws.

Alright! All joking aside, I believe in the product, and believe that the cost is well worth the benefits gained in installing solar panels on your rooftop. Because I work for a solar company, I’m inherently biased, sure, however that also implies at least a fair amount of insight into the companies that can deliver for you, and to be honest there are quite a few all over Texas to choose from.

Right to Capture, The Skinny:

You can “Go Solar,” as we say in the industry, for $0 down — however the system itself is costly, and you’ll want to make sure you have access to the online portal immediately following the installation, just in case some squirrels chew through the wiring and you need to call your installer to come out and take a look. If you have at least a 600 credit score, there are several finance companies you can likely choose from, and will ideally reduce your energy bill in the process. I say ideally here because energy usage is really the driving factor in a high energy bill (though, you will likely still need to pay administrative and/or energy transmission costs to your local energy provider). If you turn off all of your electricity, lights, unplug anything that has constant energy power — from digital clocks to refrigerators — and only use a gas-powered stove to heat your food when needed, you would expect to see a pretty low bill, right?

Well, the same administrative and energy transmission costs apply even to those with a residential solar system, even if your system covers 100% of your energy needs. Particularly in the summer months, or roughly April-September in Texas, it’s easy to “offset” your energy usage with solar energy from your southern-facing rooftop solar system; in the winter, it’s a slightly different story. For this reason, it’s unfeasible to make the switch to solar energy 100% without battery-storage or a generator — or simply by connecting to a grid with a highly technical management system, but why does this occur during the winter months? Solar Photovoltaic (PV) systems produce less energy in the winter for one very simple reason: the days are shorter, and thus there is less sunlight to absorb (at least in the northern hemisphere, and the southern hemisphere would be just the opposite).

Residential Solar, The Rub: (more…)

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“Right to Capture State” – Part 1 of 2

You’ve likely heard it from your realtor, contractor, or perhaps even at the local pond and garden store — but even if you’re hearing it here first, in Texas, we live in a “right to capture” state.Capture the Water For those of you interested in learning more about what this means, check out the following links towards the bottom of this blog post that explain the applicable Texas laws in greater detail. In laymen’s terms, the idea is that *any oil, water, sunshine, or other natural resources* that fall within your property line belong to you (*deferring to local laws and common sense of course). Not to mention, there are incentives for you to do so, for example, for…

⦁ Austin, Hays County, Georgetown, New Braunfels, Round Rock, San Marcos, San Antonio, (and more!): https://www.watercache.com/rebates/austin#:~:text=City%20of%20Austin%20Rainwater%20Collection%20System%20Rebate⦁ &⦁ text=The%20rebate%20program%20is%20structured,exceed%2050%25%20of%20system%20cost
⦁ Dallas / Frisco: https://www.friscotexas.gov//357/Rain-Barrel-Program; and some helpful information about rain-water catchment systems in Texas can be found, here on Arlington’s website:  https://www.arlingtontx.gov/city_hall/departments/stormwater_management/stormwater_education/texas_smart_yards/rain_barrels_and_cisterns

⦁ Houston: https://www.rainwatersolutions.com/products/city-of-houston-gbrc

There is a TON of great information online about what a ‘rainwater collection’ system is, as well as how to build one. If you’re curious to learn more about others in this space, check out the following links, here:

⦁ Rainwater Harvesting Laws and Incentives in Texas: https://www.twdb.texas.gov/publications/shells/RainwaterHarvesting.pdf; including an annual rainwater collection competition(!): http://www.twdb.texas.gov/innovativewater/rainwater/ Right to Capture: Rain Barrel

⦁ Details about the efficacy and importance of rainwater collection, from watercashe.com: https://www.watercache.com/education/rainwater-harvesting-101

⦁ How-to Build a Rainwater catchment system in your home: https://learn.eartheasy.com/articles/tips-for-installing-a-rainwater-collection-system/


Have you build one already? Please feel free to describe your experience in the comments section below!

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Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA)

If you enjoyed learning more about the global solar industry via the International Solar Energy Society webpage, you’re going to like our next featured group: the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA (https://www.seia.org/ ).

What does SEIA do? Well, according to their ‘Advocacy’ page, “SEIA is the voice of the solar industry, advocating for the protection and expansion of the U.S. solar market. We represent the entire industry, from small-business owners to large, publicly traded companies. Along with our members and coalitions of allies, we advocate on behalf of solar and a transition to a clean energy economy at the federal, state, and local levels.” Because of their vast member network, they’re able to cover a wide range of topics relating to renewable energy, and are not limited to simply energy data (though they also produce charts/infographics/webinars to help), but are also able to better explain what financing options may be available to those hoping to diversify their energy production, discuss tax laws and how they apply to each system (residential and commercial), and break down the knowledge barriers to learning about the newest technology in renewable energy and how it will improve the overall effectiveness of each system.

As if this weren’t an extensive enough list, SEIA has partnered with the Smart Electric Power Alliance and other partner orgs to put on one of the largest solar conferences in the U.S. – Solar Power Intnernational (SPI), https://www.solarpowerinternational.com/. Every year thousands of energy industry experts gather to share the latest knowledge, gain insights into the energy industry, and to build their network of energy professionals at SPI – including small and big businesses, researchers and manufacturers alike. For more details about the incredible work SEIA is doing, check them out here: https://www.seia.org/initiatives-advocacy.

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Product Deep Dive: Smart Thermostats

Smart thermostats allow you to control the temperature in your home from anywhere you can access internet, and Nest products have become quite versatile since they were acquired by Google in 2014, adding new online apps and services to support it’s features. Their competitor, Ecobee, likewise has added a new suite of products within the Smart home industry, and have grown to include not only Smart thermostats but home security, speakers, and accessories as well. While you can now buy these Smart devices online, the installation is somewhat tricky, which is why our customers prefer an expert to install them. To learn about the different Smart Thermostat products we offer, check out the links below:

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Product Deep Dive: Security Systems

Another home feature that continues to increase in quality, and decrease in overall cost is Home Security. Ring, Nest, and Arlo Pro doorbell alarm systems have designed easy and sleek solutions for the every day customer to install – and we’re happy to help walk you through setting up the Apps. Or if you’re looking for something even more secure, you can also take a look at the Schlage Deadbolt system – which is a more localized approach to security, and does have smart features available. Check out the links below if you’d like to learn more about each product:

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Product Deep Dive: LED Lighting

One key example of a simple and cost effective innovation is Light-Emitting Diodes, or LED lighting. While LED Lighting can really be found almost anywhere – grocery stores, hardware stores, or online for smart lighting, check out the following products by Philips: https://www.philips-hue.com/en-us/products/smart-lightbulbs. If you’re curious to learn more about how this works, feel free to read up on the ‘Hue Bridge’, here: https://www.philips-hue.com/en-us/p/hue-bridge/046677458478#overview.

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Product Deep Dive: SMART PRODUCTS

We’re living in the era of the smart home, however the term “Smart technology” implies an important distinction – that the appliance or electrical device can be controlled by an app, remotely. Each of our smart home solutions highlights two important tenants to SUNTEX infrastructure – innovation and environmental efficiency. These types of installations may add to the sticker price of the system, however they can mitigate your energy consumption significantly, and thus allow you to save money long term. Over the next several days, we’ll explore each of these products in greater detail – so if you’re curious to learn more, stay tuned!

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Earthly Innovations to Celebrate Around the World

Everyone wants to build their own home, or must, to survive the earthly elements – try being in a hail storm, for example, without even a tarp over your head. When we ask ourselves what our ideal homes would look like, how many of us ask what the ideal energy solution would look like too? For example, you might want vaulted ceilings and marble flooring – and all of the latest Energystar rated appliances, of course – but how many architects are ensuring that these tall-walled rooms are bright and warm in the winter, and lit but cool in the summer? By design, and perhaps a couple of windows/sky lights in the right place, and you’re set! When you apply then the carbon footprint cost, how many of us decided to build our homes with locally-sourced materials?

Some people are clearly making this connection, like the woman in Kenya who created her own recycled bricks using locally sourced materials. Nzambi Matee’s buildings are not only structurally sound, but installations of art as well: “Kenyan woman’s startup recycles plastic into bricks that are stronger than concrete”(https://www.designboom.com/technology/gjenge-makers-recycled-plastic-bricks-kenya-02-08-2021/). According to the article on Designboom.com, “before creating gjenge makers ltd, nzambi matee majored in material science and worked as an engineer in kenya’s oil industry. in 2017 she quit her job to start creating and testing pavers, which are a combination of plastic and sand. she gets the waste material for free from packaging factories and also buys it from other recyclers. through experimentation, she understood which plastics bind better together and then created the machinery that would allow her to mass produce them.”

For another example of a local innovation, check out the young entrepreneurs featured (right) whom created a solar-powered cooking station! According to his account on Twitter, Mr. Usman Dalhatu and partners had this to say of the collaboration, “We met with Dalsman Technologies Limited, creators of the iCart Solution. We explored areas of mutual interest, and avenues to empower petty traders in Kaduna. iCart is a solar powered, compact kiosk targeted at small businesses including Shayi, Suya and Kosai vendors,” and also the following: “The journey from ideation to final development of products is a truly fascinating one. It was delightful to discuss with @KadunaMarkets, our dev’t vision for Kaduna through deployment of the iCart. Looking forward to the exciting implementation journey that lies ahead.” https://twitter.com/UsmanDalhatu5

What’s in your area, or in your home, that could be re-purposed into something sustainable? It could be something as complex as designing a brick for a home using locally sourced materials and keeping natural heating and cooling elements in mind, or a solar-powered food-cart instead of using a gas or electric-powered stove – to something as simple as a dish-rack, for example – which is a much more sustainable way to dry your plates and dishes, and costs little to nothing to purchase and use. What else will make a difference in energy consumption in your home, your schools, in your business?

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Natural Remedies

Yesterday we focused on earth’s life-affirming gifts: trees. They’re beautiful to look at, sure, but they also provide oxygen while absorbing CO2 from the air – a truly remarkable feature for humans that enjoy breathing. There were also a few articles at the end of the post with information about other natural remedies for global warming – such as volcanoes and hurricanes, which can sometimes be benefits to our environment (when there are no people or buildings in their path, of course). Today however we’ll focus on a slightly different problem: pollution.

Pollution can be harmful in a number of ways – from sea-life ingesting plastic, or oil spilling into the oceans and killing marine animals, to landfills spreading across areas so vast they knock out plant life, or even from toxic waste that is not properly disposed of and destroys water reservoirs. There are lots of difficult problems to solve when it comes to pollution, not lost on anyone is the cost.

For example, it’s easier, and much cheaper, to dump dye chemicals from the manufacturing plants directly into the river behind the building (see the book Tom’s River, by Dan Fagin), and until the clean water act of 1972, that’s exactly what companies did. Recognizing the harmful effects this had on communities’ drinking water, this type of behavior was banned – but as you well know, we still have clothing in colors other than white, so, where do these chemicals go? The following article provides a really helpful outline of the problem, and their unique solution to deal with toxic dye water once it’s been used to dye yarn: https://brownsheep.com/how-we-recycle-our-dye-water/ – but the short story is, they recycle it! Water recycling is a new technology, but was an innovation born out of necessity. For a helpful guide on what this means and how it’s done, check out the EPA guide to the “Basic Information about Water Reuse,” here: https://www.epa.gov/waterreuse/basic-information-about-water-reuse#:~:text=Water%20reuse%20(also%20commonly%20known,industrial%20processes%2C%20and%20environmental%20restoration

Going back to the original problem at hand: plastic pollution – why is this so harmful? We touched on this subject briefly in the last couple of blogs, however its important to understand the idea of decomposition and what it means. Decomposing is the process of breaking-down or decaying, or thanks to dictionary.com, “to separate into constituent parts or elements or into simpler compounds” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decompose). The reason you can throw a banana peel or an apple core into your yard waste bin is that it has a relatively small decomposition time frame – generally about 2-5 weeks. Plastic and glass however, take roughly 500 years or more! Which means that the ‘disposable’ water bottle you use one time and then throw into the garbage can, never to think about again, will last for roughly five times your own lifespan in the landfill. You could save the water bottle, and your great, great-grandchildren could use it too! Pretty gross huh? This is why proponents of recycling are so adamant, though recycling can also be costly. Lucky for us, Japanese enzymes discovered in the last few years, there may be a solution for plastic waste soon: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/28/new-super-enzyme-eats-plastic-bottles-six-times-faster.

If we do absolutely nothing to prevent waste or pollution, the problem will continue and likely grow, unchecked. I remember back to a scene in Mad Men, set in the U.S. in the 1960s, when the main character’s family goes on a picnic, and at the end of the scene, they leave all of their trash behind (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhcKuMjvcCk) – and while this scene is bothersome to me now, just half a century ago it was common. It makes me wonder, what will we know in 50 years about recycling, and how will we get there?

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