Business Matters

For solar startup, lessons learned in Mason’s Innovation Lab were key

Shane Trexler, a 2015 Mason MBA graduate, is technology director for Centennial Generating, a company that built its business model in Mason’s Innovation Lab. Photo by Ron Aira

By Damian Cristodero

For Shane Trexler, the story of Centennial Generating is also the story of how the Innovation Lab at George Mason University can help a startup create its business plan.

“It was a pretty awesome experience,” says Trexler, Centennial’s director of engineering and design, who was an MBA student at George Mason when the company was in its formative stage. “It allowed us to vocalize the inclinations we had, whether it was marketing or engineering design or things like scalability.”

Trexler, 30, a 2015 graduate, was invited into the lab by David J. Miller, executive director of Mason’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the School of Business. Trexler looped in David John Frenkil, Centennial Generating’s founder and managing director.

A year later, the company, based in Washington, D.C., set up its first solar energy system at the Genocide Memorial Center in Kigali, Rwanda, one of several projects Centennial Generating is planning in the economically expanding country.

“Their innovation was about getting it so it was a cost-effective model in a tough place,” Miller said. “A lot of the work was, how do you get things funded and in place?”

“Sometimes [Frenkil] would be in Africa trying to meet with potential customers and I’d be at Mason in Fairfax with Dr. Miller in the Innovation Lab,” Trexler says. “We’d do these conference calls and presentations. We’d bounce the ideas off on Dr. Miller and also other students.”

Centennial Generating’s Rwanda project sparked a flurry of media coverage, including a CNBC Africa interview with Frenkil.

“The support of the Innovation Lab facilitated the collaboration between Shane and me, which directly improves the bottom line of our business,” Frenkil says.