What does it take to start a successful company? For Kevin Nickels ’13, the answer to that question is threefold – a good idea, a sound business plan, and a proven strategy to execute that plan. However, Nickels is quick to say that it’s also important to be able to color outside of the lines, to think in a way that doesn’t necessarily conform to what is expected, and to question the status quo.
Nickels ’13 is the vice president of Nickels Energy Solutions (NES), a Liverpool, N.Y., based company that specializes in the installation of solar panels. Since founding the company with his brother, Steven, in 2015, Nickels has dedicated his professional life to field that supports a number of national priorities, including climate change mitigation, national security and economic growth. It isn’t what he expected he’d be doing when he graduated from Le Moyne with a bachelor’s degree in history. However, it’s proven to be a terrific outlet for his talents and energy, as well as his education. As a history major, Nickels was trained to read, process and condense information, and that is precisely what he does every day when he speaks to customers about their energy usage.
“A Le Moyne education prepares you for life in general,” said Nickels, who also took a number of classes in philosophy and ecology at Le Moyne that inform his work today. “It teaches you how to think, how to process information, and how to communicate effectively. Because of my experiences in and out of the classroom, I never doubted that I was prepared to start a company.”
NES is growing at a time when more and more Americans are searching for environmentally friendly sources of energy. Solar power in particular is more affordable, accessible and prevalent in the U.S. than ever before. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that over the past decade solar energy production rose 17-fold, from 1.2 gigawatts to an estimated 30 gigawatts. That is enough capacity to power the equivalent of 5.7 million average American homes. Nickels acknowledged that when NES first entered the field, it wasn’t a known entity. He and Steve had to win people over with what they consider to be the foundation of their business – “honesty and communication.” The company recently expanded its services and, in addition to solar panels, now sells and installs smart thermostats and chargers for electric vehicles. However, moving forward Nickels said the aim is grow the company thoughtfully and strategically, not simply quickly.
Nickels’ previous professional experience includes working in sales and marketing for Hummel’s Office Plus and CPS recruitment. In each of these roles, he learned the importance of being focused, resourceful and innovative, and he used his passion for building relationships with customers to grow those businesses. That commitment to his clients continues in his work today.
“Establishing a strong relationship with a potential customer is just as important as closing a sale,” he said. “We want to form long-lasting relationships with our customers. They feel like family to us. If they are happy, we are too.”
Away from work, Nickels has committed himself to spending part of his time giving back to his alma mater as a member of the College’s board of regents. His advice to current students? “Network and pursue internships. Internships opened doors for me that I never could have imagined while I was a student.”
When it comes to the future, Nickels is nothing but optimistic.
“Using clean, renewable energy is one of the most important things we can do to reduce our impact on the environment, and I am really excited about the opportunity to be part of the green-energy revolution,” he said. “People are more focused on the decisions they make, and how those decisions impact the world around them. They are more environmentally and socially conscious, and I think that is a good thing for all of us.”
Kevin Nickels ’13 is a recipient of the inaugural “Phins Under 40 Award. Click here to learn more about ‘Phins Under 40.