Alumni Profiles - Matthew Rodrigue
The heat is on
William Sulinski is putting in another 14-hour day. The latest version of his start-up company’s business plan is due on Monday. It’s the third he’s written in the last seven months, not out of indecision, but because of out-and-out entrepreneurial success.
“When you’re talking about a start-up, everything changes and becomes clearer with each day that goes by,” says the Dedham, Maine, native, president and CEO of the recently incorporated Consumer Energy Research Corp. (CERC), newly headquartered at Target Technology Center in Orono, Maine.
Sulinski is working with Matthew Rodrigue of Wilton, Maine, who is providing advising and consulting services to the company. Rodrigue was the nation’s top electrical engineering student in 2004. For the past year, the pair has collaborated to take CERC from the drawing board to the boardroom.
Early on, Sulinski also had assistance developing CERC’s business plan from his brother, James, and from University of Maine student Brigham McNaughton.
Benchmarks of their success include winning two major business plan competitions: in March, a $25,000 prize — $10,000 cash and $15,000 in legal consulting and other services — from the Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern Maine School of Business; and last December, $5,000 in the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Business Plan Competition.
In the spring, the new company also received a $5,000 seed grant from the Maine-based Libra Future Fund.
This past summer, CERC was invited by Fortune magazine to enter its national business plan competition to vie for the top prize of $35,000.
With investor funding, Sulinski hopes after Jan. 1 to beta test the company’s first product, Heat-Safe, a wireless device to improve the efficiency of home heating oil delivery. A patent application is in the works. Enercon Technologies in Gray, Maine, will prototype the device.
And, oh yeah, the two entrepreneurs still have college courses to take. Sulinski, a UMaine senior, will graduate in December with an undergraduate degree in financial economics. Rodrigue, a 2004 UMaine graduate and, most recently, an engineer team leader at Woodard & Curran Inc., a consulting and operations firm, begins his first semester at Harvard Business School this fall.
“Heat-Safe will be our first product, but I don’t expect it to be the last,” says Sulinski. “We’ll be doing research on other devices, but just now, we’re working with oil industry efficiencies that have a bearing in Maine. We’re planning to sell our product throughout the Northeast and Midwest.”
Sulinski, whose family is in the heating oil business, had the idea for Heat-Safe. He developed the invention with the help of Rodrigue and the expertise of Target Technology Center and UMaine’s Office of Research and Economic Development.
“What made this idea successful so far has been hard work and the generosity of people at the university, Target, the Maine Patent Program and all of our outside counsel who want to help out,” Sulinski says.
But the bedrock of Sulinski’s entrepreneurial nature comes from his father. “He worked 15-hour days, but he enjoyed it and has something to show for it,” says Sulinski, who was 13 when he started doing accounting work for the family business.
“The first thing I learned from my father, who built his business over 16 years into a fair-size company, is that anything is possible.”
September – October 2006