Chris Ihler started developing commercial real estate while still in college at the University of Missouri and remained in the business for more than eight years. When the housing industry began to decline, he decided to start a business that matched his experience and his personal interests.
“I had a passion for the interaction of energy and real estate,” Ihler said. “(Thus) the idea was born.”
In May of 2010, Ihler and his friend, Scott Schnelle, co-founded EnergyLink, a Columbia-based company that provides renewable power systems to Missouri residential and commercial buildings.
Ihler said EnergyLink is unusual among energy cost-saving services because the company doesn’t specialize in one form of energy or method, such as solar or geothermal. Ihler describes EnergyLink as an “all-in-one service for energy savings.”
EnergyLink was modeled after a company on the East Coast called Green Homes America. Ihler said there are not many competitors in central Missouri that do all-inclusive work. EnergyLink services include: energy audits, solar panel installation, geothermal heating and cooling, and lighting systems.
EnergyLink began by making houses more energy efficient and then added commercial and government buildings, including schools, to its portfolio. Along the way, EnergyLink formed partnerships with an insulation installer and with companies specializing in heating, venting and air conditioning systems, geothermal energy systems and solar energy systems. EnergyLink also formed an Energy Service Company aimed at coordinating and financing commercial energy efficiency retrofits, according to its website.
The Moberly School District recently named EnergyLink its official energy service leasing company. In the latest development, EnergyLink formed a strategic partnership with Bertram-Kiel Holdings, a St. Louis company that specializes in structured finance. The joint company will offer power-saving systems to municipalities across Missouri.
Schnelle said being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs, but he loves each endeavor because it’s been fun. Plus, he gets to work with his friend.
“It’s pretty much everything we envisioned,” Ihler said.
Ihler said one reason for his success is his willingness to reach out for advice from mentors.
“I have lots of mentors, entrepreneurial and business mentors that I rely on regularly,” Ihler said. “The key to enhancing what I learned from them is by passing it on to other entrepreneurs.”
Ihler still views EnergyLink as a startup. The company employs 16 people right now, but Ihler has his eyes on expansion.
“We’re a small business, and I intend to grow much bigger in the next two or three years,” Ihler said.