By: Nick Santangelo

Sometimes, seizing an unexpected opportunity is all someone needs to succeed. As a student, Paul Hodges, CLA ’13, discovered as much when looking for a one-semester housing sub-lease that would allow him to study abroad in his junior year. Luckily for the Political Science major and History minor, he found a Craigslist post from Chris Clark, CST ’12, that presented such an opportunity. 

The two one-time strangers immediately hit it off. After graduating from college, they formed the nonprofit Solar for Academics, which then spun off into their current business, Soltech Solutions.  Now, several years later, Clark and Hodges have recently launched an award for College of Liberal Arts (CLA) students interested in studying abroad and entrepreneurship, becoming the youngest CLA alumni to fund an award of this nature.  The purpose of their award? Helping fellow entrepreneurs pursue their own passions and opportunities.

Finding Themselves

One of the award’s primary criteria is a student’s desire to travel and study abroad for the first time.  Clark and Hodges credit their personal travel experiences during their college career as not only character-defining moments, but ones that ultimately birthed the path to Soltech itself.  It was studying abroad that initially brought Clark and Hodges together. As students, Clark studied in Australia while Hodges did so in Italy and Germany. Soltech’s third founder and owner, Mike Planer, also attributes a large chapter of his personal growth to his travel experience as a teacher in China.

“That's how we each have learned to define the true value of travel—its ability pull you out of your comfort zone and rattle you a little bit,” says Hodges. “It awakens your identity—from your roots to who you are and where you want to see yourself.”

All three Soltech founders agree that traveling abroad is valuable because it takes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you as a person by exposing you to new cultures, new ideas.

“That's been a big passion of all of ours, and we wanted to give back,” says Clark. “We can cut a check for x amount and send it to Temple University, but it doesn't go to a specific person that shares the same values that we share.”

Hodges adds that without being pulled out of their bubbles, the business partners would never have gained those monumental experiences that led to the shaping of their character, passions and paths. Through their $10,000 Soltech Built for Brilliance Award, which they hope to primarily give to first-generation students in their junior years, Clark and Hodges hope to help future CLA students follow their path to entrepreneurship and nonprofit work.

Finding Their Purpose

Clark, Hodges and Planer’s own entrepreneurial paths started with the founding of Solar for Academics, which installed solar systems on schools in third-world countries. This then led to the 2015 creation of Soltech Solutions as a solar company that later pivoted to selling luxury LED lights for growing plants.

“I've always wanted to start something of my own,” says Clark. “We moved in together, and we just started formulating ideas at home in our apartment, going through the progressions of, ‘What are we actually going to do? How are we actually going to make money and pay ourselves?’ Then it evolved into the idea of luxury grow lights.”

The team’s ability to adapt and grow in new and uncertain circumstances has also helped them navigate their business through the changing business climate resulting from the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Both Clark and Hodges credit their Temple educations with helping propel their business by teaching them independence and by strengthening their character.

“As a CLA student, my primary focus wasn’t on business per se, but rather people,” says Hodges. “It's a unique developmental foundation for any young adult, one grounded in the classical tools of education, analysis and critical thinking.  By having our educational experience at Temple, full of its challenges and opportunities, Chris and I have grown to not only recognize but confidently address our business’s opportunities with creativity, passion and confidence.” 

Interested in learning more? Follow Soltech Solutions on Instagram at @Soltech_Solutions.

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