Starting on June 5th, the Garden Grove Community Center became the home of Startup Weekend where aspiring entrepreneurs pitched their ideas, received feedback, and formed teams that develop their idea over the following 54 hours. Co-sponsored by the City Council, the event coincidences with Mayor Bao Nguyen's push for the birth of a startup culture within the city. By the end of the weekend, the judges chose Garden Grove resident Thuong Nguyen as their winner for his idea called LEDLending, an online marketplace that connects consumers with green energy lenders. We sat down with him to learn more about his idea and how Startup Weekend went.
Can you give me some background on yourself?
I have a background in internet marketing and reusable technology. When I was going to college, I started off in an internet company and after that I have been doing LED-reusable technology in the past six years. I kind of transitioned from software to reusable tech.
Can you tell me how your experience at Startup Weekend Garden Grove went?
It was awesome. It was a three-day event where you cultivate an idea , find teammates and co-founders, and trade products by Sunday night. You do industry research and find a solution to a problem you identify and from that you're supposed to form a website, app, or product. Since I've been in the lighting industry, this idea has actually been on my mind and I've been meditating on it for some time now. When I went in, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
The idea that won Startup Weekend was LEDLending, which is an online marketplace that connects energy efficient lighting projects with multiple green energy lenders. Our mission is to decrease commercial dependency on utility energy. Do you know LendingTree? It's an online marketplace where you get to choose the best lender for your car or house. LEDLending is similar to that but for commercial facilities looking to go renewable but don't wanna invest in a large upfront cost. In our platform, we have an algorithm that connects your green project with green lenders, and it's important to have lenders who don't charge high interest rates. When a bank sees a portfolio as risky the interest rates become higher. For our platform, I pretty much composed a database of lenders/banks that understand renewable technology and, in doing so, the interest rate. With renewable tech, you're saving the environment and a lot of money. That's the main concept of our idea.
This platform is geared for two types of consumers: the LED company itself and the commercial customers trying to upgrade their facility. LEDLending works in three steps. When you go on our website, you first select the type of lighting project you want to work on--say, a senior home care facility or whatever it is you need. Then, you enter the estimated cost and choose the term of loan you want. And then the algorithm will output five to ten lenders and you just choose lenders you wanna go with.
Where did your idea come from?
I sell this technology in my day job every day. I'm talking to people about it which I felt validated my idea. The idea of financing your renewable tech project has already been there but there hasn't been a platform where you can input what you're looking for and find what you need. Startup weekend also gave me the opportunity to validate my idea.
What parts of the project are you working on right now?
I'm coding the algorithm which is the hard part. I need to find appropriate lenders and I would love to connect with any commercial facilities in Orange County (and beyond) that are interested in learning more about how to reduce their electricity costs.
How did you feel when you won?
It felt really good because Friday night the setup was that you're supposed to pitch your idea to everyone and the most popular ideas would have group members. When I pitched nobody understood me so on Friday night I didn't have any team members and each team needs three members to quality for the final round on Sunday. I literally was begging people and I told them I had the idea already and I'm already in the industry. Fortunately I found the team members. They were on other teams but we were allowed to be on two teams the most so my team members were also working on other teams. On Saturday I found another two members so there were four of us.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Probably not. It wasn't until college that I entertained the idea and realized this is where I wanna be. In high school I always had a heart for the environment I was president of the Ecology Club of Rancho Alamitos High School in Garden Grove. But I didn't know I would be doing a startup.
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Who are your greatest inspirations and why?
Elon Musk. He's just doing a lot of amazing things. He's going up against industries like the public utility companies who charge a lot but he's beating them.