The In Conversation series is a chance for us to go deep with the people behind Victory Square Technologies’ over twenty-plus portfolio companies. It’s an in-depth look inside what these companies do, and a chance to break down their approach to changing the game.
The latest interview in the series is a conversation with Mark Tadros, founder of Stardust Solar. A serial entrepreneur, Mark is an old friend of the Victory Square family, his business journey coming full circle. Victory Square completed an investment in Stardust Solar earlier this month, you can find out more about it here.
This is a portion of a Zoom conversation between Mark and former CBC Radio host James Graham. It has been edited for clarity, space, and Zoom dropouts. The full conversation will be made available soon as part of Inside The Lab, the VST podcast series.
James Graham: What’s the elevator pitch for Stardust Solar? You’ve got 30 seconds, go.
Mark Tadros: Stardust Solar is Canada’s leading training provider for renewable energies. We’ve had our material vetted and accredited by not only the CSA, but also NABCEP. So with our company, you’re able to get the basic credentials you need to enter the renewable energy industry, and we’re unique in the regard that we’re offering certification there. We took it one step further based on our customer feedback and we’ve developed a franchise model. Now you can get trained and certified with Stardust Solar, but also buy a franchise license and get in the field doing installation work under our brand and under our company.
Mark Tadros: The CSA, as you know, is the Canadian Standards Association. They are the governing body for most industries in Canada, and they’re definitely the governing body for solar and renewable energies. Where they have their fingerprint on the industry is you can’t install equipment in Canada that doesn’t have a CSA stamp of approval, or a certificate of equivalency, like a UL certificate is what they would issue in the US that’s recognized by CSA. So the CSA is the governing body there and they’ve been kind enough to list Stardust Solar as one of five training institutions in Canada. They only have five listed on their website that actually are approved as a prerequisite to take the CSA 7241 Solar Construction Electrician Exam. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but what I’m getting at is they actually offer a certificate to tradespeople, electricians. For those electricians to be able to write that exam, they need to finish a prerequisite training such as the one Stardust offers, and there are really only five institutions in Canada that do so. So it’s a real big feather in our cap and it’s a validation of our course material, as well.
NABCEP, which is the North American Board of certified energy practitioners, is the largest governing body of renewable energies for North America. Similarly, we’ve submitted our course material to them, they’ve approved our course material as sufficient training for people entering the renewable energy industry, specifically in solar and they’ve actually gone one step further and allowed us to become a proctor of the NABCEP Associates exam. So you can actually write the NABCEP exam at our facility after you finish our five day training.
James Graham: Why does the public need education on renewable energy? Who are you seeing that is coming and getting involved with the courses that you’re providing?
Mark Tadros: The exciting part is our course is not cookie cutter for one person or another. We specifically designed it so all walks of life can take our training and get value out of it. We offer a layered curriculum that covers all aspects of solar installation projects. That’s everything from doing a site survey to building proposals, communicating ROI to customers, doing the installation, work, ground mounts, roof mounts. We even go in-depth in our advanced last few days of training, which cover energy storage, battery banks, being autonomous, and living off-grid. So what I’m getting at here is that the course covers all aspects of the industry. It’s good for anybody who wants to learn about renewable energies. Our clientele includes salespeople, entrepreneurs, electricians, skilled tradespeople. Even just renewable energy enthusiasts and people who care about photovoltaic technology and want to learn more. We’ve made it wide and that was done on purpose so anybody can learn and get certified in solar installation.
James Graham: So you’re getting a wide breadth of people coming in, it’s not just electricians or people who want to learn how to install panels for profit.
Mark Tadros: Exactly right, and again, that was by design. There are some higher-level certifications available for electricians specifically, but we opened it up to everybody. That’s really behind the essence of our company, which is to provide education and knowledge about renewable energies to the public. A lot of people think we’re crazy because we go out and give our trade secrets to people who are potential competitors in the future. But we don’t see it that way. We really want to be the seed of education for a growing industry. The interesting thing about renewable energies and solar photovoltaics in specific is that it’s not just electrical training. It’s not just roofing training. It’s not just physics, it’s really a nexus of a lot of different disciplines. And there’s nothing out there that provides a concrete foundation for people entering a new industry that touches so many different aspects.
James Graham: Now talking about expansion, you mentioned the franchise opportunities earlier. Where is that putting the company?
Mark Tadros: It’s a game-changer for us, we are the first to offer solar installation and a franchise opportunity. Being the first was really exciting for us, and you’re right, it’s allowed us to grow and spread quickly. We went to market with our franchise model at the beginning of 2021. We just deployed it, and we’ve had a great amount of interest. We’ve onboarded and sold five territories with another three that are reserved. On top of that, we have currently three hundred and twenty-seven requests for licenses across Canada that are still waiting to be processed. We did that on purpose to not grow too fast. But today we’re operational in Nova Scotia, Barrie, Ontario, Edmonton, Alberta, Kamloops, the Okanagan, and in Vancouver. Those are our five territories that are up and running and you know, it’s going very, very well. We’re actually getting these franchisees up on roofs this summer. Exciting stuff that our brand is living coast to coast right now.
James Graham: So you’re coast to coast right now? What’s the expectation for the next year in terms of area? How many areas are you going to be covering? Is it just Canada alone, or are you looking in the US as well?
Mark Tadros: We’re definitely going to be looking at expanding into the US, that’ll probably be early 2022, I would think we are doing another round of franchisee onboarding next month. So I would expect by the end of 2021 we will be above 10, but less than 20 across Canada. Then next year, we want to grow that again and open up the doors in the US. What we’re doing right now is we already have our US company established and incorporated. We’re just doing all of the filing of our paperwork with the regulatory bodies to get the approvals to offer our franchise licenses in the US as well.
James Graham: How popular are the installation services and what kind of growth are you seeing there?
Mark Tadros: I couldn’t actually give you a specific number at this moment, but it’s incredible. The amount of demand for solar specifically is just through the roof and it has to do with a lot of things. The primary thing right now for Canada specifically is the drop in the cost of the equipment. That has really made it viable in almost any climate to install solar and get a return on your investment. But we’ve also seen some incentives come along from the federal government just recently. You might have read, they’re offering $5,000 grants for homeowners to make their homes more energy-efficient. There are a few hoops you got to jump through with inspectors and whatnot, but that is free money that they’re offering for people to do upgrades and solar photovoltaics is one of those approved segments. So the demand right now for solar installation is the hottest that’s ever been and I only expect it to go up over the next five years.
James Graham: What is coming up next for Stardust that we need to know about??
Mark Tadros: People need to know that we’re preparing for growth. We recently acquired the Canadian Solar Institute in Nova Scotia. We now have training operations in Nova Scotia, Montreal, Regina, and in Vancouver. We’ll also be adding territory training in Toronto or Mississauga, as well as Calgary. What you’re going to see coming from Stardust this fall is a deployment of our training course nationwide, we’re going to be offering those certifications across the country. We’re going to be generating more franchisees for our training. It’s really a natural piece of our business model that came together with the franchise model where we offer the training platform, which allows us to then grow our qualified franchisees. What you need to know about Stardust is we’ve recently partnered with VST and we’re going to be scaling up our franchise operations to truly capitalize on our first-to-market initiative. I think that if we can deploy that business model properly through the rest of the year, 2022 should be a blue sky year for us where we can further our growth, and capitalize on those victories from the end of this year.
James Graham: Any final words? Shout outs? Anything you want to share with the listening audience? Are the Habs going all the way?
Mark Tadros: Stardust Solar is really here for the people. What we’re trying to do is offer this knowledge and this training to everybody. Anybody who wants to participate in renewables should consider taking a course with us because we’re here to give you all of our knowledge and get you started. This whole renewable energy industry is more than an industry in my opinion, it’s truly a movement. We focus at our company on premium customer experience. We want everybody who comes through our doors to not only feel like they got value, but to feel like they are also part of the renewable energy movement, and that’s really part of what we’re doing. Whether it’s an installation customer, or it’s a training customer, everybody who comes to our company is participating in the renewable energy movement. We want to be leaders in that space.
Mark Tadros is CEO of Stardust Solar. He’s also a Montreal Canadiens fan. Ask him for his Fantasy Sports tips.
James Graham is very tall.