Tom Van Cleef - Energy Entrepreneur

As Tom Van Cleef perches on the roof of the McConnell Worthington Center for the Arts showing off a new set of solar panels that his company, Solar Vision, provided to the building, he exudes a sense of civic pride in the accomplishments of his year-old start-up. He and business partner Greg Kuss began the innovative solar power providing company after a fluke meeting between the two.

“We use the word ‘serendipitous’ about our meeting. I went to Worthington schools to do a project on my own, and he was doing the same thing,” he says.  “We were put towards the treasurer and the superintendent and we just kind of—‘poof.’  We never could have anticipated it was going to go this way.”

Van Cleef supplements Kuss’ deep knowledge of renewable energy with his experience in company start-ups, after setting up software companies—a career that took him to 32 different countries—for most of his professional life. Solar Vision’s unique mission is to make solar power affordable to municipalities and schools by obtaining grants for the installation of the technology, while the schools pay Solar Vision for the power.

“We’re doing something, we’re making a difference. All the businesses that I’ve been in, all the countries I’ve been to, it’s been exciting and rewarding to me, but I don’t know what ‘I did,’” Van Cleef says. “In this case, we know that especially when you put solar on a school, you’re changing the way tomorrow will be viewed.”

Van Cleef aims to be ever conscious of conserving energy in his personal life—by turning off lights, computers, TVs, etc. while not in use—but admits that it’s nearly impossible for his own house to be fueled by solar power because, similar to many suburban homes, tall trees obstruct sunlight from reaching his rooftop during most of the day. And while he enjoys promoting renewable energy, his secondary passion is working with his four dogs, performing search and rescue missions for missing people. It’s obvious—Van Cleef is a man devoted to making his community a better place.

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