When Mohammed (Mo) Abdalla graduated with a B.S.B.A. in energy management in 2011, he — as so many others do — took his new knowledge and skills and parlayed them into a well-paying career in the oil and gas industry. After just two years of working as a landman for ConocoPhillips, however, Abdalla had a change of heart and vision. This led him to seek a new path forward in the blossoming field of renewable energy.
Following a year traveling the world, Abdalla returned home to Texas and, in 2014, founded Good Faith Energy. “My company’s vision is to transform the energy ecosystem with smart, sustainable, reliable technology,” Abdalla said. “Simultaneously, I want to ensure a positive and lasting social and environmental impact.” Perhaps fittingly for someone who was born in sun-washed Egypt, at the center of Abdalla’s business is designing and building solar energy systems for homeowners and businesses.
“Mo is a great example of the kind of versatility the energy management program helps to develop in our students,” said Tom Seng, the director of TU’s School of Energy Economics, Politics and Commerce. “While Mo ultimately decided the oil and gas industry really wasn’t for him, he was equipped and motivated to pursue a different avenue within the energy sector. He and Good Faith are now part of the energy transition occurring here in the United States and across the globe.”
Sustainability from end to end
For Abdalla, renewable energy is “one of the few industries where you can have an impact on the triple bottom line: You can make a sustainable living, create long-term sustainable jobs and lower your carbon footprint along the way. For me, that’s also the kind of legacy I want to leave behind.”
But the switch from conventional fossil fuels to renewables – let alone starting a business from scratch focused on green energy – was not easy. From 2014 to 2018, Abdalla focused on acquiring knowledge (including by completing the Social Impact Strategy program at the University of Pennsylvania), building relationships and gaining experiences from various project developments and industry mentors. Good Faith’s first customer did not appear until 2016 and Abdalla did not start drawing a salary until 2018. “But I always viewed startups as much like a college degree,” he mused; “if you can achieve success in four years, then it’s worthwhile continuing the pursuit!”
Growing a startup organically has been, hands down, Abdalla’s biggest and proudest professional accomplishment. From boot-strapping Good Faith Energy with an initial loan of just $20,000, Abdalla can now claim over $30 million in lifetime revenues. “In addition, there’s so much satisfaction in knowing we are putting 540-plus meals on the table every day for our amazing employees while also positively impacting the planet,” Abdalla remarked. “Altogether, that’s what keeps me motivated and passionate each and every day.”
What’s in a name?
The name Good Faith Energy came to Abdalla in 2014, while he was floating in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru. But it wasn’t the result of a heavenly revelation. Instead, it dawned on him that all the oil and gas contracts he had read subtly included the legal clause “in good faith.” As Abdalla puts it, “I knew right then it was time to redefine what “good faith” means when it comes to energy generation and contracts.”
Ingredients for success
Being an entrepreneur and a good leader “requires being grounded, well-rounded, interpersonal and resourceful,” Abdalla said. “You also need a high pain threshold and have faith that what you’re creating will prove useful enough to humanity that people are willing to spend their hard-earned dollars to pay for your products or services.”
Abdalla also credits TU’s energy management program with equipping him with a diverse set of skills that have “proven essential” in a startup setting. “In particular, I learned so much from Professor Tom Seng. He opened my mind to the benefits of renewable energy technologies and encouraged and supported me in my entrepreneurial venture – while many others distanced themselves from me entirely. TU played a huge part in transforming me into a ‘solarpreneur.’”
According to Abdalla, the future is dazzlingly bright for people who want to work in the field of renewable energy and distributed generation: “Green careers are the careers of the future, and the future is now!” As pledges to reduce carbon emissions continue to be made around the U.S. and much of the rest of the world, Abdalla sees exponential growth in the demand for rooftop solar, utility-scale renewables, energy storage systems and other smart-grid technologies necessary to reach those goals.
How about you? Does a future in green energy quicken your pulse and stir your ambition? Then you definitely need to check out TU’s energy management program today!