Why Solar Energy Entrepreneur Dr. Reginald Parker Says ‘My Electrons Are Better Than Yours’

Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
Written by Ebony Grimsley-Vaz
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Dr. Reginald Parker, founder and CEO of Optimal Solar. Photo provided

Cities and states across the U.S. are independently focusing on renewable energy despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

More than 200 mayors across the U.S. have pledged — without help or encouragement from the current administration — to transition to 100-percent clean-energy communities by 2035.

Dr. Reginald Parker saw the big picture after visiting West Africa in 2015. A serial entrepreneur, he’s focusing on the need for affordable energy everywhere, not just the U.S. In 2018, the MIT and Georgia Tech graduate launched his latest company, Optimal Solar.

Parker is laser-focused on making solar energy affordable and accessible. He promotes his VIA technology as the most efficient solar module. Also called a solar panel, a solar module is a single photovoltaic panel made up of connected solar cells. The solar cells absorb sun to generate electricity. An array of modules supply power to buildings.

Parker says he has figured out a way to split incoming sunlight, separating out the infrared light that causes solar energy products to lose up to 25 percent of heat. The technology converts visible and infrared light into electricity. In Dr. Parker’s words, “My electrons are better than yours.”

Dr. Parker discussed with Moguldom the challenges of being a hardware startup, the importance of always learning, and why his product is better than the competition.

Dr. Parker is a semi-finalist for the Verge 19 Accelerate pitch competition. Verge 19 is a conference and expo platform for companies, cities and communities accelerating the clean economy. Voting is open to the public until Aug. 30. You can vote here.

I have developed 24-to-25 projects in the U.S. including the first African-American utility-scale solar farm. I have worked on projects in Jamaica, Nigeria, and South Africa. We’re developing some large-scale projects in West Africa and Texas. We’re looking at projects along the Eastern Seaboard.

Dr. Reginald Parker, founder and CEO of Optimal Solar.
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Dr. Reginald Parker, founder and CEO of Optimal Solar. Photo provided

Moguldom: Why did you start Optimal Solar?

Dr. Reginald Parker: I was visiting West Africa in 2015 and Latin America afterward and I noticed a need for stable, affordable power. We have that in the U.S., but power needs to be cheaper. As an inventor, I saw a solution to both problems.

Moguldom: What was the response when you began working on your solution?

Dr. Reginald Parker: People looked at the invention and said, “Why didn’t anybody else think of it,” and “This seems to be too good to be true because it made too much sense.”

Moguldom: What countries and states are you providing your solution?

Dr. Reginald Parker: I have developed 24-to-25 projects in the U.S. including the first African-American utility-scale solar farm. It’s about five-and-a-half football fields in size. I have worked on projects in Jamaica, Nigeria, and with my partner in South Africa. We’re developing some large-scale projects in West Africa and in Texas. We’re looking at projects along the Eastern Seaboard as well.

A guy said to me in high school, I know you have good grades and you did well on your SAT and in math and science, but the only reason you got into MIT is that you’re Black. People are always going to discount you when they feel that you have something that they don’t think you should have.

Dr. Reginald Parker, founder and CEO of Optimal Solar.

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Moguldom: As an engineer from MIT and a Ph.D. graduate from Georgia Tech, do feel like you still have challenges as a Black engineer and as someone who is a trailblazer in the industry?

Dr. Reginald Parker: So, you’re asking me if being well trained gets me over the hump of the stereotypes usually associated with being African American?

No. It doesn’t get me past the stereotypes. A guy said to me in high school, I know you have good grades and you did well on your SAT and in math and science, but the only reason you got into MIT is that you’re Black. People are always going to discount you when they feel that you have something that they don’t think you should have. Why did I get into MIT? Good grades, good scores, and being good at math. He listed all of the reasons I should have gotten into MIT but to him, that was not the reason. It was because I was Black.

The biggest challenge is that we are a hardware company. A lot of money is going towards software and digital platforms. People in the investment community have lost the skills on how to deal with hardware.

Dr. Reginald Parker, founder and CEO of Optimal Solar.

Moguldom: Optimal Solar is not your first company. You co-founded green solutions company 510nano in 2005. What were some of the challenges in launching Optimal Solar?

Dr. Reginald Parker: It’s still a challenge to be a minority founder. However, the biggest challenge now for us is that we are a hardware company first because of the product we are delivering.  A lot of money is going towards software and digital platforms. As such, a lot of people in the investment community have lost the skills on how to deal with hardware. They will say to me, “Hardware is hard, right?” I will, in turn, respond, “No. I disagree. Software can be hard, just as well.” They look at the cost of hardware versus software. The reason software is as cheap as this is because of the cost of electrons, and that’s what we produce – the electrons. We actually produce the electrons for solar more cheaply. In fact, “my electrons are better than yours.” I will release some information soon backed by a series of facts and performance data.

Moguldom: You are an experienced entrepreneur, academic and a long-time professional, but when you launched Optimal Solar you participated in programs for startups. What was that like for you?

Dr. Reginald Parker: Yes, I have an MBA and a Ph.D. and worked for a Fortune 500, been a professor. With all of that, one of the things I learned is, don’t stop learning. A lot of people would be ready to not humble themselves enough to see whether or not there are any nuggets that they can gain to give themselves a competitive advantage, especially serial entrepreneurs such as me. But what I said was, there’s information out there that I don’t know and networks I don’t have. For instance, I participated in Google for Entrepreneurs Demo Day that the American Underground at Afro tech and was blessed to be part of; the inaugural class of Backstage Accelerator, and Climate Cup. All of these things have advanced my thinking, our business, networks, and improved who we were as a company and our offering.

Moguldom:  What have been some of the notable wins since starting Optimal Solar?

Dr. Reginald Parker:  Winning a spot into Backstage Capital and my categories at Climate Cup. Right now, I’m a semi-finalist for Verge 19 (a conference and expo platform for companies, cities and communities accelerating the clean economy.) Voting is open to the public until Aug. 30. But you know our true win is being able to deliver the cheapest reliable electricity throughout the world.

Moguldom: Besides Backstage Capital, did you raise any other capital for Optimal Solar?

Dr. Reginald Parker: We have the money from Backstage Capital ($100,000) and I’m closing on two rounds.

Moguldom: Are you open to an acquisition or an IPO in the future?

Dr. Reginald Parker: We will always look at what is the highest yield for our investors. If we are moving in the right direction and there is a suitor out there that shares our vision that can take what we’re doing to the market much bigger and better, then we could consider it. We’re not just going to sell for sheer money. Our goal is to end energy poverty. So, if we sell and we’re not able to do that, we would not only be selling, but we would be selling out.

Moguldom: What do the next five years look like?

Dr. Reginald Parker: For us, tremendous growth. Our competitors, pain, lots of pain. We’re revolutionizing the solar industry.