After her parents emigrated to the U.S. from Guyana with just $100, this entrepreneur landed an investment from business mogul Mark Cuban to the tune of $150,000.

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portrait of krystal persaud of grouphug
Credit: Courtesy of Grouphug

Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

Most inventors will tell you they dreamed up their product to solve a problem, and that's exactly what Krystal Persaud did as the founder of Grouphug Solar, a renewable energy company that makes solar panels for apartment occupants. "I started Grouphug because it solved a problem for me!" says Persaud. "I live in an apartment in New York and I really wanted to do something in renewable energy." As a conscious consumer, she swapped single-use plastic straws for stainless steel and filled reusable water bottles. "But when I started researching how I could invest more into sustainable habits, I learned that energy production is a leading driver of climate change," she explains. "So at the time, I thought to myself, 'Well I know the answer, I'll go out and buy solar panels!' But I couldn't figure out what to do on my own because I didn't have a rooftop."

Persaud didn't let her apartment dwelling inhibit her imagination; instead, this inspired her to find an alternative solution: a solar panel that hangs in the window. Her original prototype was designed to look like a piece of home décor, as she explains. "I literally made one first for myself and then friends started asking for them," she recalls. "That is how our first product, the Window Solar Charger ($134, grouphugtech.com), was born."

Her Inspiration

Persaud graduated from Georgia Tech with a degree in industrial design. While she had always had a passion for sustainability (in 2009, she worked on "The Closed Loop Experiment" a project where she studied all of her garbage to find ways of repurposing into other useful things), solar energy wasn't on her radar. After graduation, Krystal worked six-plus years as a toy designer at a toy startup called, littleBits.

"I started off as an intern and grew over the years into the senior director of product design. As a toy designer, I learned how to use my creative skills to teach someone about an important subject through play. I think important subjects—like renewable energy—could use some toy design energy! I'm all about making things fun and easy to understand."

grouphug solar setup on sharktank
portrait of krystal persaud on sharktank
Left: Credit: Courtesy of ABC / Eric McCandless
Right: Credit: Courtesy of ABC / Eric McCandless

Her Big Break

In Persaud's case, this work led her right to ABC's Shark Tank. Persaud reminisced on her experience pitching to the Sharks on season 11, saying, "We were invited to pitch on season 11 of the show within three months of starting Grouphug. We had just finished our Kickstarter campaign where we raised $70,000 to produce our first batch of Window Solar Chargers." After the pitch, Mark Cuban offered $150,000 with a 25 percent stake in the company. Persaud accepted. "I think I am living proof of the American dream," she said during the episode. "My parents emigrated here with $100 in their pocket from Guyana, and look at me now. I just got a deal from Mark Cuban on Shark Tank."

Today, she still feels the same way. "I was thrilled to get Mark Cuban as an investor and partner," she says. Thanks to that deal, Grouphug Solar has sold Window Solar Chargers in almost every state in the country.

grouphug hanging solar charger in window
Credit: Courtesy of Grouphug

Building Back Stronger

With success comes growth and Persaud reveals that Grouphug is working on a second adaptation of the popular Solar Window Charger. "It's been incredible to gather feedback from real customers in 2020 and we've taken that feedback to create an even more powerful and more beautiful solar design," she says.

For growing businesses, the year 2020 was rough to say the least. As the pandemic broke out and everything quickly came to a halt, so did the company's supply chain. "It was literally the worst timing for us," she says, "but we got through it." Deliveries were delayed by months, but as Persaud says, "It was the best crash course in how to run customer service!" Another obstacle was their B2B side of the business where they created custom-shaped solar panels for offices, schools, and museums. And with all of those spaces closing, the B2B business closed. "We'll see how 2021 goes, we might reopen that."

Luckily, the future for solar energy is bright. Persaud says the year 2021 is all about educating those who are passionate about renewable solar energy but don't know where to begin. "We like to say Grouphug is your first step into solar but not your last!" she says. "We've set up biweekly webinars where we talk about all things solar and publish a lot of educational content on social media and our blog. We are also building partnerships with rooftop solar and community solar organizations so we refer our customers to when they are ready to take that next step."

There are plans to bring back their exhibitions, Grouphug Collective, in the near future, possibly in 2022. For many entrepreneurs who feel stuck with getting their idea out there, Krystal shares that the key is to just start. "It's never the perfect time to start a new business. And you will never feel 100 percent ready or, at least, that is how I felt. If you keep putting your idea out there, it becomes real."

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