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Brandon Yoder
Philip Kutzko  
PHIL KUTZKO
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BRANDON YODER A UI student is dedicated to making green energy more accessible to Iowans—and saving them money.

Ever since high school he knew he wanted to own his own business, maybe even retire by age 50. Now University of Iowa student Brandon Yoder is seizing the chance.

Yoder devoted last summer to fine-tuning plans for Green Transitions, Inc., a company that will install wind turbine generators, solar panels, and geothermal heating and cooling systems in homes and businesses. But his hopes are bigger than his personal goals—he wants to help Iowans access green energy, find work in an emerging industry, and save money.

“I have a strong desire to help people and to serve,” Yoder says. “Now my mission is to serve the public. Green Transitions is going to help people become independent.”

His plan for the venture took first place in the Merle Volding Business Plan Competition for undergraduate and graduate students at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center in June, earning Yoder $3,500 in seed money.

Yoder plans to graduate from the Tippie College of Business this December with a degree in management and organizations and an entrepreneurial certificate. Even when taking a full load of courses, he’s focused most of his time on establishing his business.

Green Transitions will initially target the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City Corridor, but Yoder hopes to expand his services to eastern Iowa and eventually throughout the Midwest.

Yoder credits much of his drive to a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, which he joined after graduating from Linn-Mar High School in Marion in 2000. He saw the Marines as a new challenge and a way to earn support for his education.

Yoder spent four years as a mechanic on F/A-18 fighter jets, including one year in Iraq. While stationed there, he attained the rank of sergeant and received the Marine Corps/Navy Achievement Medal.

“The Marines taught me about discipline and determination,” he says. “I wanted to challenge myself and gain the leadership skills I would need to one day own my own business.”

Returning to Cedar Rapids, Yoder knew it was time to pursue long-held dreams. He enrolled at the University and began plans to start a business that would serve the needs of Iowa and the nation.

His interest in alternative energy runs in the family. Yoder’s father works for Clipper Windpower in Cedar Rapids, one of a few U.S. wind-turbine makers. His father’s job sparked Yoder’s interest in pursuing his own alternative energy endeavor.

He’s also inspired by a lifelong love of the outdoors. When he isn’t meeting with investors or applying for city permits, he enjoys boating, playing disc golf, and riding motocross, and describes himself as simply "a green guy."

So, why Iowa?

With the state’s status as the nation’s number 2 wind power producer and available government support, Yoder sees a lot of opportunity here. Iowa is expected to receive roughly $41 million from the State Energy Program and was the first state to receive an installment of federal stimulus money, including $16 million dedicated to promoting renewable energy.

Yoder’s company will target businesses and residences with at least one acre of land. Switching to his green energy sources should guarantee customer payback in between five and 10 years, Yoder says, adding that his products’ lifespan will well exceed the payback period.

And while saving clients money is a goal, giving business and homeowners the opportunity to create and control their own energy remains his ultimate objective.

“I don't think a lot of people are all that familiar with where they get their energy—they just take it for granted,” Yoder says. “I want to provide the opportunity for people to be sustainable in the long-term and help entire communities become energy independent.”

Story by Tessa McLean; photo by Tom Jorgensen

 

October 5, 2009