How This Missouri Startup Is Bringing Solar Power to Rural America

Luke Phelps and the Vroom Solar team

How This Missouri Startup Is Bringing Solar Power to Rural America

Sometimes, the idea for a new business is right under your nose. That was certainly the case for Luke Phelps’s Vroom Solar, which came about when he saw a need for power in remote and mobile situations in rural Missouri.

But let’s back up a bit to see when this idea was born. Before starting Vroom Solar, Luke ran and owned Red Barn Solar, a company that specializes in commercial solar installations across Northern Missouri’s agricultural facilities. During his work with Red Barn Solar, Luke recognized a pressing need for on-site power in rural locations for his installation crew.

Luke’s background in solar installations for various agriculture facilities, including dairy farms, chicken farms and hog facilities, highlighted a recurring issue: the constant requirement for charged tools and power supplies.

“It was just ironic that we were constantly in need of a power supply while we were installing a power system,” Luke says.

This need ignited the spark that led Luke to start developing a solar panel system for trailer-mounted batteries, chargers and power tools. He began conceptualizing a way to swiftly mount solar panels onto cargo trailers, leveraging the abundant roof space available.

“I realized there’s a lot of roof space on the trailer, enough to produce quite a bit of power,” Luke says.

The journey continued as he recognized the unreliability of battery systems, which often posed problems due to factors like heat and improper charging.

“Whether it was heat or just not charging it properly, there was just a lot of very finicky things with battery systems that we kept running into,” Luke says. “So, we finally started working on a direct system.”

Vroom Solar solar panels
Vroom Solar solar panels charge the battery system so electric tools can be used and charged in remote areas.

Teaming up with CTO James Bartley and eventually Pivot International, Vroom Solar developed its solar-direct, multi-load management technology to skip batteries. Luke also partnered with Jonathan Young, owner and operator of Advanced Racking, to develop a patent-pending racking system that easily adapts to cargo trailers, box trucks and shipping containers.

Though the Vroom Solar kits were originally designed specifically for crews on job sites, they now are available for anyone who wants to have emergency, backup power at their fingertips.

Devices being charged in a shed using Vroom Solar technology.
Tools and an electric lawnmower are being charged in a shed using Vroom Solar technology.

“Initially, our focus was on just allowing contractors to be able to attach this to their tool trailers and their power tools charged up easily wherever they go,” Luke says. “But as we developed the technology, we realized that the market was a lot larger than we initially thought. Now we are getting tons of calls for all kinds of agriculture from greenhouse needs—things like powering fans and irrigation and mowing companies wanting to switch to electric lawn mowers. And one of the more exciting applications that we just discovered recently is a backyard storage shed with our solar solution on it, allowing customers to charge their electric lawnmowers and tools.”

Luke says organizations like the Missouri Small Business Development Center at Missouri State University and efactory have been helpful for identifying funding resources and providing answers through this early phase of the business.

“Luke was coming into an area that he was somewhat familiar with but was looking to identify all the resources that were available and make the connections that he needed to bring Vroom Solar to Springfield, Missouri, and Missouri as a whole,” says Sandra Smart, technology and commercialization specialist with the Small Business Development Center at MSU.

Luke says the assistance has been a boon to his company.

“They’ve been super helpful and have been making lots of connections for us,” Luke says. “Helping with funding or resources on international trade and all those different things.”

Establishing a Headquarters and Manufacturing Facility in Springfield, Missouri

Vroom Solar recently announced plans to build a new headquarters and manufacturing facility in Springfield, Missouri.

The company’s new location in Springfield will provide a dual purpose as the company’s headquarters and a manufacturing facility. Automated packaging processes at the new facility will enable the company to rapidly produce its patent pending portable, battery-free solar energy kits.

“The headquarters is really starting to come together and something we’re really excited about,” Luke says. “We’ve got a 20-acre piece of land that we bought not far from the Springfield airport. It’s in an up-and-coming location and we got in at the ground floor, which is exciting because we get to help shape what happens in that area.

They intend to divide the land into three lots—utilizing one for their operations and offering another for rental to fellow businesses. The third lot is slated for sale to a partnering entity interested in manufacturing components for Vroom Solar.

The expansion is being assisted by the Missouri Works Program, designed to help companies like Vroom Solar in expansion efforts and workforce retention. The program provides access to capital through withholdings or tax credits to support job creation initiatives.

Future plans

As the company moves forward, it plans to expand the team by hiring an additional five to eight new employees by the end of the year.

“We currently have an online store open just for a short period of time so that we can continue to get our product into people’s hands,” Luke says. “But our best route of sales will be through our dealer network. We’re having weekly calls with different dealers all over the nation, who will be located on our website as a dealer for our product. And that’s really our focus long term is working strictly through our dealer network.”

Vroom Solar is gearing up to usher in a new era of energy solutions, paving the way for a cleaner, more sustainable future.

Business help for those first or next steps

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