[Originally published September 9, 2015]
THE GREAT Ed Goldman -- one of our favorite, iconic regional treasures -- recently sat down with Repower Cofounder Chris Soderquist. Here's his story:
Ed Goldman: Chris Soderquist’s newest (ad)venture: Sharing the sunshine
When scientists get around to studying the biological basis of entrepreneurship, Chris Soderquist will make a splendid case study: He seems to prove that it runs in families.
At 46, Soderquist is a former venture capitalist and a serial entrepreneur. He calculates he’s created “about a dozen” businesses and has been an investor or board member of “another 30 or so.” Restlessly intelligent (maybe even antsy), he appears to have settled into a single company that he loves: Repower Yolo, a Davis-based solar energy firm that in the past year-and-a-half has installed “more than 2,500 solar panels on 60 homes and 10 commercial projects,” he says, adding, “all in Yolo County.”
Soderquist is pursuing the venture with business partner and operations manager John Walter. Repower Yolo doesn't install solar systems. Rather, “I consult with the clients and tell them what will work for them and what won’t. Sometimes I talk myself out of a sale, but that’s a small price to pay for integrity.”
There’s a circular perfection to Soderquist’s latest passion. His dad, Charles Soderquist, was also an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who started amassing his wealth building and installing solar-powered hot tubs in Davis. Soderquist the elder, who died 11 years ago of an aneurysm, was also a philanthropist: he left the bulk of his estate to UC Davis.
I had interviewed Charlie Soderquist for my Working Lunch column in Comstock’s Business Magazine two years before his passing. He was a fascinating guy and Chris reminds me of him save for one attribute: while warm and soft-spoken, the dad had a somewhat dour, dark-ish aspect to him (possibly only with columnists) whereas Chris, despite being a serious man, has a lighthearted, almost impish quality.
He’s also, like his dad, a philanthropist, who donates money from every sale to one of 18 Yolo County nonprofits. While he says the principal motivation for doing so is “helping out,” Soderquist says, “There’s a kind of a domino effect at play. If we can re-power homes” — convert them from running solely on gas and electricity, “people will save money and will have more to spend in the community. There’s a lot of sunshine out there.”
And that, he says, “is the only positive thing about climate change I can think of. The less rain, the more sunshine, the more electricity we can generate. But I’d prefer it rained.”
Soderquist and his wife Karen, a manager at a medical software company, have two sons: Scott, who’s 16, and 13-year-old Ty. Perhaps because he majored in journalism at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo — he also has an MBA from UC Davis — he elects to help out his interviewer. “I’m pretty easy to summarize,” he says. “I’m a father, a husband, a Little League coach and the son of amazing parents. I got my work ethic from my dad and my loving side from my mom.” Yes, but that sunshine is all his own.
Ed Goldman’s newest book, “And Now, With Further Ado: More Gravitas-Defying Profiles and Punditry from the Sacramento Business Journal,” is available at Amazon.com.