MBA Student Spotlight: The Story Behind a Company’s Power Surge

Shane Trexler was engaged and inquisitive, and lingered after class to ask questions and discuss new venture ideas and opportunities.

That’s how David J. Miller, executive director of George Mason University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, remembers his former MBA student. It was those qualities that Miller said prompted him to invite Trexler, and the head of the startup where Trexler worked, into the School of Business’ Innovation Lab.

“It was a pretty awesome experience,” Trexler, 30, a 2015 graduate, recalled. “It allowed us to vocalize the inclinations we had, whether it was marketing or engineering design. We bounced the ideas off Dr. Miller, but also other students.”

A year later, Centennial Generating, a solar energy company based in Washington, D.C., for which Trexler is technology director, set up its first solar energy system at the Genocide Memorial Center in Kigali, Rwanda, one of several projects the company is planning in the economically expanding country.

“When you have a system providing energy on the other side of the world, it’s pretty cool,” Trexler said.

Centennial Generating installed and operates the facility with local labor, said David John Frenkil, the company’s founder and managing director. The solar energy system allows the Genocide Memorial Center to buy less power from the local utility, and the power generated by the system is sold to the center at a discount.

Trexler, with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, “is the first and last line of defense for all the company’s technical decisions,” Frenkil said.

Trexler’s interest in alternative energy has deep roots. In college, he said, he built phone chargers by using the mini solar panels that power garden lights and by strapping small CPU fans to the luggage rack of his car to act like wind turbines when he drove.

“It was super nerdy,” Trexler said. “The idea you can turn something like wind or sunlight into practical energy was really cool to me.”

Which is why his work with Centennial is so rewarding, and why his and Frenkil’s collaboration with the Innovation Lab was so important.

“The support of the Innovation Lab facilitated the collaboration between Shane and me, which directly improves the bottom line of our business,” Frenkil said.

“A core feature of the lab is developing a sustainable business model,” Miller said. “They seem to be on the right track.”

Written by Damian Cristodero

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