Published: Jan. 11, 2024 By

Picture this: solar panels soaking up the sun, wind turbines doing a rhythmic dance and even waves contributing their share to the power game. It is nature's orchestra playing a symphony of sustainable energy! Renewable energy has been buzzing in conversations for ages. But about a decade or so ago a spark ignited, and now it's exploding. The discussion on renewable energy is everywhere. People are actively seeking solutions for a cleaner energy future.

Erik Coler is a first-year Master in Business Administration (MBA) student and High Growth Venture Fellow at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), who hails from the bustling streets of New YorkErik Coler City. Erik started his academic career at State University of New York at Fredonia, Fredonia for short. Fredonia is nestled near Buffalo, New York, where the focus was political science. In Erik’s early Fredonia days, he leaned heavily into politics and became deeply entrenched in a congressional race and serving as a delegate for United States President Barack Obama at the Democratic National Committee —a fervent foray into the political arena. Yet, this passion took a detour after a few years, when Erik realized he belonged elsewhere. Call it a first attempt or a realization, his transition set the stage for what came next: hedge fund management.

Erik’s energy journey started as an energy analyst working for an oil and gas investment firm, where he quickly rose through the ranks to operations manager. Erik describes his experience as “a rollercoaster of learning, failing and evolving.” However, ten years into the firm, Erik felt something was missing: renewable energy. The decision to leave the fund took him, along with his wife and corgi, from the bustling city of New York to Colorado, driven by CU Boulder's stellar MBA program, which he confidently touts as one of the best in the country, and a better understanding of renewable energy.

Nurturing Entrepreneurship and Renewable Energy Expertise through the High Growth Venture Fellowship at the Deming Center

Valuing his standards for academia and renewables, Erik chose a two-year program that immerses a select group of MBA candidates in academic and experiential learning unique to growth-stage companies: the High Growth Venture Fellowship through the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship at the Leeds School of Business at CU Boulder. Erik’s cohort, or fellow first-year MBA students in the program, consists of nine peers. When considering earning his MBA, Erik researched learning pathways and came across the High Growth Venture Fellows, believing it would be an incredible opportunity. The group is supportive, brings in lecturers, helps you develop new skills and great networking opportunities, which inspired Erik to apply before joining CU Boulder. To him, the High Growth Venture Fellowship has been an enriching experience. Erik credits Program Manager Betsy Klein and Executive Director Erick Mueller for their encouragement and great advice, ensuring students are challenged by amazing classes and fellow students.

“The Deming Center, I think it's a gem in the United States. It's an absolutely premier program if you are an entrepreneur, and if you're thinking about it for undergrad, even for an MBA, it's absolutely a place that you should focus on and look at. You have so much an opportunity there.” 

Erik approached his decisions to earn an MBA carefully. Despite not having a conventional background and navigating through various challenges, opting for the CU Boulder MBA program is helping Erik establish a solid foundation for securing a rewarding position in a renewables company upon graduation. 

Erik’s hopes for renewable energy experiences with CU Boulder have already begun. During his first year as an MBA student, Erik had the opportunity to compete in the 2023 Duke University Emerging Energy Case Competition. The challenge was to leverage a technology operating in remote locations to provide Nigerians access to renewable, reliable and affordable energy sources. Teams had to craft a business model from scratch, addressing how to make it cost-effective and widely accessible. Erik joined the CU Boulder team and went head-to-head with over 60 graduate student teams from around the world. They faced off against powerhouses like Cambridge University, University of Navarra (ranked third globally for MBAs), Northwestern Kellogg (second-highest in the U.S.) and York University (top-rankedErik Coler enjoying some time exploring the outdoors MBA in Canada). It was a fierce competition and together, Erik and his team emerged as the second-place winners with the idea to develope a solar system or grid-connected photovoltaic system that integrates with the existing power grid while also generating energy for cold storage desperately needed in Nigeria.Thanks to the competition, Erik says, 

“People have reached out on LinkedIn, and it has led to interviews and fruitful discussions. It's been a positive ripple effect for the team.”

Failure is a Stepping Stone, not a Setback

For Erik, diving into a career is not just about the grind; a career is about embracing the journey. If you are willing to fail, ask the tough questions and genuinely enjoy what you are doing you are on the right path. Erik recommends future MBA students focus on prioritizing because your overall happiness is at stake. Focusing on yourself is as crucial as any professional pursuit, and it is a game-changer. 

“You’re going to fail, and that’s okay. Don’t be afraid to look stupid.” 

For those interested in learning more about renewable energy, Erik shares some valuable resources. He recommends researching how the United States electric grid works on YouTube. He then recommends listening to the Volts podcast and following websites such as Utility Dive, to get a sense of the changes constantly happening.

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