Bert Green’s little off-the-grid shop is getting a lot noisier.
SolarMill, an 18-month-old startup that uses solar power to make home goods out of sustainable and recycled materials, has more bodies churning out more products. And Green, ever the tinkerer, has taken his solar-powered, automated milling machine from concept to reality.
Designed and built by Green, the machine has allowed SolarMill to triple production of the bamboo cutting boards that put the company on the map.
“A year ago, it was just really an idea,” Green said of the machine. “It took until about March to get it up and running. It’s doing everything we expected it would do.”
Green, 30, has also begun producing small batches of coasters and candles. But it’s the company’s iPhone case that has Green looking toward the future.
The cases are made of teak wood and a material called Richlite, which is recycled paper compressed under extreme heat and pressure and mixed with a resin.
“The iPhone case is a whole different ballgame,” said the Virginia Tech grad. “This is a much more exciting product.”
Green has friends and family testing the cases, and he says he’s about a month away from large-scale production.
The first shipment of SolarMill’s Richlite coasters were recently sent to Amazon and will soon be up for sale. Green has priced them at $18 for a set of four.
The company’s new candles are made with a lower-tech process. Green uses what amounts to a giant magnifying glass with the sun beaming through it to heat a cast-iron kettle filled with wax. The wax is then poured into small containers.
“We’re just trying to find more ways to express the concept,” Green said. “Making candles with sunshine is just an appealing idea.”
Most of the company’s shop at 8528 Sanford Dr., off Staples Mill Road between Parham and Hermitage, is powered by a four-panel, 1,000-watt solar array. It sits out front, gathering juice, and stores its energy in a bank of eight large batteries.
Besides the addition of his machine, Green has added some help. He’s employing three engineering and industrial design students from Virginia Tech and VCU as summer interns.
They’re brainstorming and designing new items and working on a conveyor line that will automate the finishing process on the bamboo products.
The company has sold 800 cutting boards since it started last year, Green said, and brisk sales in May helped buy some new parts for the shop. An unnamed investor helps keep things going as Green tests his concepts.
Should the iPhone cases take off, Green said he would look to make cases for other smartphones. He’s also eyeing more housewares, with the ultimate goal of making furniture.
In the meantime, Green is sticking the slow and steady approach that has helped him navigate the learning curve of running a business.
“How to get a barcode, how to get it into distribution, how to price,” he said. “There were a lot of ‘how’s’ I had to figure out.”
Congratulations Bert! I’d love to catch up stop in and see us sometime, we now have a full line of survival products. Let’s talk about putting some of your products in our store.
Off Grid By Design
I’ve been meaning to stop by and check out the new store. As for ourselves, we’re starting to have a nice little collection of products that would look great showcased there!
Let’s talk this week.