By Erica Herbst
Kristof and Diane Irwin founded Positive Energy in 2009. Motivated by a desire to improve sustainability in the building industry, Kristof and Diane decided to turn their decade of home building experience into their own company. The flexibility was appealing with a young child at home, but the Irwin’s faced challenges. At first, Positive Energy met difficulties being taken seriously as a business. The Irwin’s also needed to define a product and value that was relatively new at the time. As a final blow, the Irwin’s were turned down for a traditional loan. Then, Diane and Kristof learned about PeopleFund after acting as the commissioning agent for the Sustainable Food Center’s green energy certification right next door to the PeopleFund office.
According to the husband-and-wife team, PeopleFund took them seriously as a business. “[PeopleFund] helped us ramp. We were able to maintain staff while growing our business. We had no idea where to start and felt like giving up. Ally [of PeopleFund] was so helpful and helped us think about the big picture in a clear, actionable way, unlike the traditional bank,” they said.
Positive Energy successfully entered a niche market in Austin, with virtually zero competition in the building science industry. “Like our name, ‘Positive Energy’ is what we believe is needed to change the ‘business as usual’ ethic in the traditional building industry. We are going after the way society interacts with the built environment. What we expect from our dwellings will be different than in the 80s, 90s, 2000s, etc.,” Kristof and Diane said. Positive Energy operates on the belief that “homes, offices, and commercial buildings can and should be healthy, comfortable and energy efficient.”
Positive Energy is now well-known in the Austin area, largely due to word of mouth advertising. Kristof and Diane created videos at the advice of their PeopleFund advisor who suggested them as a way to generate leads. A well-known builder with a widely followed blog featured their videos, and customers more often tell them they’ve seen their videos versus their website. Business is booming with Positive Energy “slowly becoming the focal point of a burgeoning building science community.”
Diane and Kristof find collaboratively moving forward, everyone taking ownership of the business, and working with their high-powered team among the most rewarding aspects of owning their own business. They advise entrepreneurs who are just starting out to “keep your day job. It’s complete uncertainty. No guarantee of success.” They also recommend reading the E-Myth books by Michael E. Gerber and Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim.
When Lisa Terrazas, PeopleFund SBA Client Liaison, walked into Positive Energy, Kristof pointed at a wall mounted Mitsubishi air conditioner and said “Do you see that? That A/C uses less energy than a light bulb.” It’s these radical differences in home sustainability that Kristof and Diane are passionate about, working to make such features commonplace in the building industry.