MELISSA LEE, 23, of Center City, is co-founder and program development director for the Global Renewable Energy Education Network (GREEN). Based at 17th and Arch streets, it's a study-abroad program that accelerates careers in renewable industries. Lee and co-founder Mikhail Naumov started the company in 2009 when they were students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. I spoke with Lee.
Q: How'd you get the idea?
A: We went to Costa Rica and found one of the few places where you could travel and experience all types of renewable-power plants. We got exclusive access inside the plants by building relationships. That's where we met our other business partner, Jean Paul Cazedessus, who leads our operations there.
Q: How's the biz model work?
A: We work with 150 universities [including Temple, Penn and Drexel] and students apply for the program on our website. Those selected get three to nine credits toward their degree. Instead of six months in a classroom, they're able to learn and explore by spending 12 days in Costa Rica or 10 days in Iceland.
Q: What do programs cost?
A: Costa Rica is $3,200 and Iceland is $3,600.
Q: Tell me about Iceland.
A: We just launched Iceland and partner with Reykjavik University. Iceland is the greenest country in the world, and 99 percent of the country is powered by renewables except for cars, buses and vehicles.
Q: Do you have data on how GREEN advances careers?
A: We'll [soon] have more than 1,000 alumni. We're just starting to collect data. We have anecdotal evidence that GREEN helped them get an interview or land a job at a company or government.
Q: What separates you from other study-abroad programs?
A: A lot of others offer you a class and then you have the rest of the day off. Our model mixes education, culture, adventure and community service. In Iceland, students from all over the world study geothermal power in class and discuss topics so it becomes a think tank and not just a professor and a whiteboard. We visit a geothermal-power plant, see the control room and spend a night at a geothermal hot spring.
Q: How big a business is this?
A: By year's end, we expect $1.5 million in annual revenue.
Q: How many employees?
A: Seven full time.
Q: Where do you see the business in the next five years?
A: I'd like to see us in 10 countries, but we don't want to grow too fast. We spent three years in Costa Rica before we launched Iceland. Our focus is renewable energy because there's a need to accelerate careers for students to become green leaders. There are other industries - biotech, robotics, space travel and artificial intelligence - in which we can replicate our model.