A higher purpose: Becoming profitable is just one of the goals for the owner of a conservation-aware lighting company

September 04, 2004

A higher purpose: Becoming profitable is just one of the goals for the owner of a conservation-aware lighting company

 Sat Sep 4 2004 

Page: D12 Section: Careers 

Byline: Iris Winston 

Source: The Ottawa Citizen 

When Glen MacGillivray saw the light, he was determined to spread it around the world. So, for the last four years, Glenergy has been his "vehicle for doing good in the world.'' 

The small company began as the alternative-energy division of Mr. MacGillivray's first company, Nray Services Inc. 

"Glenergy promotes the sensible application of alternative energy and the sensible consumption of energy,'' says the 46-year-old entrepreneur in explaining the primary focus of the offshoot company, a separate corporation since 2000. 

Recognizing that Glenergy's light-emitting diodes and compact fluorescent bulbs, powered by sun, wind or water, could make much more difference in developing countries than in such energy-guzzling urban centres as Toronto or New York, Mr. MacGillivray took the unusual step of focusing on the international market before targeting market possibilities at home. 

"One watt in a Canadian house would make no difference at all,'' he says. "But it makes a tremendous difference anywhere within 1,000 kilometres of the equator. 

Our edulight product, for instance, with a one-watt solar panel, 10 watt-hours in batteries and a one-watt LED bulb make it possible for somebody in a no-electricity environment to read or work under a clean, white light.'' 

The Glenergy vision includes marketing through governmental and non-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies and other support groups. 

"My best guess is that there are two billion people who could benefit from our products,'' Mr. MacGillivray says. "We can't sell directly to them, because most of them don't have any money, but we can sell to groups that want to find thoughtful and considerate ways to get light to them.'' 

He is convinced that his altruistic goal of providing environmentally friendly, low-maintenance, long-life lighting is attainable, he adds. This is why the company has also focused on ensuring that assembling the lighting systems is very simple. 

"Assembly takes minimal tools and training. We're trying to reduce it to putting kits together, but they're kits that give some versatility. The same piece of equipment can be made into a lamp, a ceiling light or an outdoor light, for example.'' 

Following a train-the-teachers model, Glenergy plans on setting up demonstration systems in various locations in Africa and Asia. 

"We'll build the first 500 with some of their people seeing how we do it. Then, we'll send a container with all the parts, tools and training aids to make 10,000 lights where they need them.'' 

To this point, Glenergy is not a profitable venture, Mr. MacGillivray admits. "It's not even close. But it does not exist just for business reasons. If it had, I would have shut it down five years ago -- the year before I started it.'' 

Currently, Glenergy is supported by Nray, the company that he and a partner formed in 1994, when he left Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Nray, which specializes in neutron radiography inspection, obtained the $100,000 it required to start up through a small-business loan and a loan for equipment from AECL. 

The debt was repaid within five years, and Mr. MacGillivray estimates that the company has inspected 75 per cent of the parts for the high-pressure turbines of aircraft flying commercially "with halfways new engines.'' Although Nray Services, which now has 20 employees, had "positive operating money almost every year except 2000, when the gross company income fell to about $90,000,'' 

Mr. MacGillivray says "the dips were a little too dip'' and he began looking for other revenue. This was part of the reason that he formed Glenergy, which he financed himself. "It's not making a profit yet, but I have managed to scare up a few investors, and it looks as though we're getting there.'' 

The next step for Glenergy, with five employees, is to bring its energy-preservation philosophy back to Canada. Mr. MacGillivray points to campsites, portable toilets and other outbuildings as possible markets for his company's light sources. 

"What I'm aiming for in Canada is quiet camping for everyone. We can put in battery, solar panel, compact fluorescent lighting and people are good for the summer at the lake every summer for 30 years without the noise of generators making other people unhappy.'' 

In Canada or in its international marketplace, Mr. MacGillivray is out to help people solve their lighting problems. "If I can get light to two billion people and it doesn't cost me anything, I will have succeeded,'' he says. 

And as Glenergy's reputation for creative thinking grows, so does the likelihood of Glenergy, not just breaking even, but also making a buck. "That would be perfect, and I think it's going to happen.''