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Bay Area solar entrepreneur works to woo architects, builders

Louis Hansen, The Mercury News on

Published in Home and Consumer News

FREMONT, Calif. -- Suvi Sharma came to entrepreneurship early.

Sharma started a nonprofit while at Northwestern University dedicated to teaching and mentoring students in poor Chicago neighborhoods.

Along with a desire to better his community, he said, "I realized I liked running things."

After a few post-college years doing consulting and banking, in 2003 Sharma joined a solar manufacturing startup in New Mexico called Solaria. He became CEO and moved the fledgling company to the Bay Area.

During two different stints as CEO, Sharma has helped remake the company into a manufacturer of high-efficiency panels with architectural design in mind. The company manufactures some of its products in Fremont, with others made in Korea. The private company has received about $190 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.

It also developed and spun off a manufacturer of solar tracking devices, NEXTracker, which was later sold for $330 million.

Architectural solar products make up a small but emerging market -- finding new building features and spaces to embed high-efficiency solar cells and generate electricity. Tesla, for example, is reaching into the space with solar roofs.

Solaria has focused recently on building solar cells that easily embed into windows. The cells also allow for clear vision through a window -- think open blinds -- while generating power.

The cell design allows the glass makers to place the solar technology inside traditional windows in different patterns and profiles. Solaria has deals with major glass manufacturers Pilkington and Asahi Glass to integrate Solaria cells into commercial and residential windows.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

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