University of Arkansas • 2013
by Kody Ford
Picasolar’s Douglas Hutchings isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. Such a work ethic is great in an employee, especially the CEO.
“Growing up, I worked in chicken houses and as a busboy at the Chopping Block Steakhouse in Mena,” says Hutchings. “These jobs were critical in teaching me the meaning of actual hard work, keeping me grounded through any success, and the value of money. In a startup, you cannot limit your work by your job title, and it is critical to be a good steward of the money that has been given to you by investors or your customers.”
In 2009, as Hutchings was finishing his PhD at the University of Arkansas on “Early Detection of Breast Cancer using Microwave Imaging,” he enrolled in the New Venture Development classes in the Walton College of Business. The idea of the class was simple – have an idea, write a business plan, and hopefully start a company. Their team coalesced around a technology that provided a new way to produce solar cells, developed by Dr. Hameed Naseem. They fared well at business plan competitions and raised a round of seed funding six days before he defended his dissertation.
While the initial plan would have required massive amounts of capital, they scaled down and honed in their process on a way of improving existing solar cells. They have received a Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation to prove the concept of this new approach, which enabled them to secure funding from the Department of Energy SunShot Program. They have made it through three rounds of back-to-back support in the SunShot Program, a dazzling achievement.
As for why he enjoys working at a startup, Hutchings quips, “You are working on something that has never been done before, and the odds are not in your favor. What’s not to like?”