Having lived in San Francisco until recently, Nic Stover had a front-row seat to the tech boom--and to missed opportunities. Among them, he noticed that agriculture was a sector the tech industry tended to ignore, but what he saw was an underserved market begging for change.
"Agriculture is not sexy or flashy. There's a belief that some of these guys are just dumb farmers who really don't know what they're doing out there," Stover said. "What you start to discover is that they're really sophisticated agri-businesses and they're very smart business people."
With that in mind, in 2013 Stover joined CalCom Solar, a design-and-build company that helps agricultural businesses add large solar energy installations to their properties. Since its birth in 2012, CalCom Solar has been growing steadily, going from $100,000 in revenue its first year to a forecast of more than $60 million for 2016. That growth has landed CalCom Solar in the No. 3 spot on this year's Inc. 5000, a list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country.
"I just felt like agriculture was a neglected portion of the energy landscape within California, and it was time to take a chance and go after that," said Stover, who became CEO in September 2014. He previously made the Inc. 5000 as one of the few vice presidents and equity owners at M2M Communications, a Boise, Idaho-based wireless energy and water management solution provider.
CalCom Solar's business model is simple. The company, which is based in Visalia, California, works with farms, dairies, and water districts, helping them design and build solar power projects that they can install on their land to provide energy. Each project takes up about seven acres and provides around one megawatt of energy, which is enough to power more than 500 homes, Stover said.
The entire process takes about nine months to complete. CalCom Solar designs the project, gets the necessary regulatory approvals, and then installs the systems. Thus far, CalCom Solar has done about 50 installations, and each one generates about $2 million in revenue.
"It's a business market that's neglected, so when you can spend the time to explain something that's very complex like energy policy in the state of California ... there's a lot of appreciation that comes back from the customer," Stover said.
For CalCom Solar, the next challenge lies in maintaining the company's success. And in a twist, Stover says the best way to do this is for him to exit the company. In mid-July, he announced his decision to step down as chief executive. In mid-July, he announced his decision to step down as chief executive. He'll shift his attention to another agriculture energy business that he founded. As is often the case with entrepreneurs, Stover's strong suit is starting companies, not necessarily growing them (an odd admission considering he grew the company so quickly it landed atop the Inc. 5000). But it's maintaining that trajectory Stover is considering.
"Keeping up that level of growth--in less than four years to have gone from $100,000 to $60 million--is going to require some reinvention of the business," said Stover.
CalCom's current CEO, Dylan Dupre, has a different opinion. "We have an exceptionally smart, talented group of employees and we are excited about our future prospects," said Dupre, who has served as the company's vice president of business development since December 2014. "We will continue to focus our efforts on driving operational excellence, developing customer and supplier relationships, and expanding our product and service offerings. Our business model emphasizes a disciplined and balanced approach toward growth and profitability, and I am confident in our ability to hit our targets for each without sacrificing one for the other."
Correction: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized part of CalCom's business process. The company performs the majority of its installations, not subcontractors.
This article also has been updated to clarify that former CEO Nic Stover's tenure in that role began September 2014 and to include a statement from CalCom's current CEO, Dylan Dupre.