Virgance, a San Francisco startup with multiple business lines all focusing on social activism, has scored $750,000 in seed funding and is also unveiling a new deal that should help it install more solar panels on roofs around the Bay Area.
We’ve covered Virgance before, although it’s a difficult company to track given that it has several founder teams, each focused on different ideas. There’s Carrotmob, which just soft-launched today; it organizes groups of consumers to change the habits of businesses by changing their own buying habits. There’s also Lend, a Facebook application aimed at helping big companies distribute their philanthropic wealth.
But the business idea that has taken the company the farthest so far — and actually made them some money — is 1 Block Off the Grid, a local project it acquired in November. At the time, 1BOG was testing out its idea of aggregating groups of interested consumers to buy solar panel installations. Buying as a group, says Steve Newcomb, Virgance’s CEO, can save the end consumer about 15-20 percent off the total price, which is usually over $20,000.
Virgance makes its money by charging the solar installers who win the contract a fee of 25 cents per installed watt, which adds up to a bit less than $1,000 per house. The pilot program 1BOG was running at the time it was acquired signed up 189 interested people. Of those, 89 had their houses evaluated and 42 went ahead and bought installations, a number that Dave Llorens, who co-founded 1BOG, says is about double the usual conversion rate. SolarCity, another local startup we’ve covered, won the contract to do the installations.
Although 1BOG is in the process of trying to expand the program and move into other cities, with Los Angeles being next on the roster — it claims to already have over 200 signups there, without advertising — it’s also figuring out ways to strike deals with companies. Hence the new program it’s also announcing today, with the local Chamber of Commerce.
The idea is to give the Chamber’s members, either the small businesses or their employees, a way to tap the same installation savings as consumers get in the regular 1BOG plan. But because bigger companies already tend to get better installation rates, 1BOG is also considering ways to sweeten the pot, like offering free home energy audits, a first step to installing energy-efficiency measures.
There are thousands of businesses in the Chamber, and employees numbering in the low hundreds of thousands, so Virgance has the chance to make serious money if it can convince a significant number to sign up.
Quest Venture Partners was the lead on the seed round, while the rest of the participants were angel investors. The 1BOG programs run on a quarterly basis, so there should be some sign soon of whether 1BOG has long-term staying power; meanwhile, the company is still working on its other business ventures, including one as-yet unannounced.