This week I would like to introduce you to the co-founder and CEO of Energetek, Eva Gerrits. Energetek is an energy brokerage and consultant company that is also focused on renewable alternatives. If you are unaware of the commercial and industrial industry space then know that Eva is paving a way for other female entrepreneurs and leadership as this industry is heavily dominated by males.
This week I would like to introduce you to the co-founder and CEO of Energetek, Eva Gerrits. Energetek is an energy brokerage and consultant company that is also focused on renewable alternatives. If you are unaware of the commercial and industrial industry space then know that Eva is paving a way for other female entrepreneurs and leadership as this industry is heavily dominated by males.
As a male, I am well aware that there are certain challenges that I am not going to encounter. Very early on in her career, she was faced with sexism that had career-altering implications. But let me be clear, Eva’s story is not a victim story, it is one of strength, focus, and determination to get the goals that she desired.
In today’s episode, you will hear how important it is to reflect on all phases of your journey because each phase plays a key role in your growth. You will also hear from Eva, how challenging it can be to stay the course in the pursuit of your dreams when it is within an industry that is fraught with sexism. Finally, you will discover that regardless of the challenges, your dreams are your dreams and nobody should detour you from your pursuit. Like every startup story we have told thus far, we need to start at the beginning, and for Eva, it was her early upbringing that set the foundation for her strength and determination. This is Eva Gerrits’ startup story.
“If it was not for the challenges and experiences I’ve had during my journey I would not be the person I am today.”
—Eva Gerrits, Energetek
“Do not ever stop sharing your ideas and your strengths regardless of whatever industry you find yourself in. That industry needs the authentic YOU.”
—Eva Gerrits, Energetek
Connect with Eva on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/eva-gerrits
Energetek’s website: https://energetek.biz/
Energetek on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/energetekbiz/
Energetek on Twitter: https://twitter.com/energetekbiz
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Special Guest: Eva Gerrits.
The Startup Story - Eva Gerrits
Eva Gerrits: Hi. I'm Eva Gerrits. I'm the CEO and Co Founder of Energetek, and this is MY startup story.
James McKinney: Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story.
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James McKinney: Before we jump into our episode this week, I want to share a review that was posted on iTunes by ZackSwire, who gave The Startup Story a five star rating and wrote, "What I love about The Startup Story is that James cares to share the real stories behind most startups. As he points out, we often celebrate the hugely successful startups, which seem to have some sort of magic sauce from day 1. But from my own story and hearing from James' interviews, it's clear that most Startup Stories do not follow that 'overnight success path'. Instead they're full of ups and downs with many failures, small successes and occasional big win. It's heartening to hear that my experience is shared by most entrepreneurs, and that when I'm feeling like I'm not sure if I should still have it in me to keep going, that's it's important to keep going through those tough moments, but to learn from my past and from others around me. Also, that it's important that I carve my path - not replicate others, but be true to what I'm called to do - giving it my full heart and full effort - and in doing so I'll find success. I'm certainly on that journey now with goodgrains.com. I'm grateful for James that he cares to share these stories in hopes that they will positively impact and inspire entrepreneurs through the ups and downs we all face. Wishing you much success with The Startup Story!"
Thank you so very much, Zack Swire. I really don't have much more to say. You truly captured the purpose and heart of The Startup Story. I hope all those listening will visit goodgrains.com to check out the startup that Zack is working on, and thank you Zack for taking the time to write that review and to share the impact it has had on your. Sharing goodgrains.com is the least I can do as a thank you for the incredible review you wrote.
So for all of you listening right now, if you have found value in any of The Startup Story episodes, please leave a review. I'll continue to read one each week so plug your brand in the review, just like Zack did, so I can give it some love on an episode. Giving your business a plug is the least I can do if you take the time out of your day to write a review. And remember, these plugs stay in the episode, and these episodes last for a very long time. So it's your brand getting visibility for a long time as a thank you for you writing a review on iTunes. So thank you.
Now let's jump into this week's episode. Our guest today is Eva Gerrits, the Co Founder and CEO of Energetek. Energetek is an energy brokerage and consultant company that is also focused on renewable alternatives. If you're unaware of the commercial and industrial industry space, then know that Eva is paving the way for other female entrepreneurs and leadership as this industry is heavily dominated by males. In listening to Eva's startup story, you will hear how important it is to reflect on all phases of your journey, because each phase plays a key role in your growth. You will learn how challenging it can be to stay the course in the pursuit of your dreams when it is within an industry that is fraught with sexism. And you will discover that regardless of the challenges, no matter how offensive they are, your dreams are your dreams, and no one should deter you from your pursuit.
As a male, I am well aware that there are certain challenges that I am not going to encounter. For example, in my 25 years of both career and entrepreneurship, I have never experienced sexism, and I don't expect to encounter it for the remaining time that I have for working. That is part of why Eva's journey was one that I wanted to tell. Very early on in her career, she was faced with sexism that had career altering implications. But let me be clear, Eva's story is not a victim's story. It is one of strength, focus, and determination to get the goals that she desired. But like every startup story we have told, we need to start at the beginning, and for Eva, it was her early upbringing that set the foundation for her strength and determination.
Eva Gerrits: My parents are both civil engineers. They met in college. So they both were working for firms at the time, didn't own their own business. That actually does change later in my life, but we can get to that in a little. So they've just always been super supportive. Whether we wanted to take a job in a city and like go into that corporate life, or we wanted to go into a trade and be working with our hands every day, and be doing manual labor instead. As long as we were enjoying it, that's what they really cared about. They wanted us to set goals, make sure that we worked hard towards whatever our end goal was going to be. But it didn't matter to them really what type of job it was going to be or how much money we were going to make. They just wanted us to enjoy the journey, but ultimately we would have to be doing every single day.
James McKinney: When you look back on that, your upbringing and how your parents raised you with that freedom, when you look back on it can you see the value of that freedom to just kind of pick your own journey, and it didn't matter what you did, there were no expectations other than just hard work and diligence? Can you reflect back on that and think wow, there's a lot of freedom in that, and how do you think it played out in the long term?
Eva Gerrits: So there's freedom in that sense, but they definitely were… I was the oldest, so they were more strict on me. Then it was my sister was there, they were a little less strict, then it came to my brother and they were, from my point of view, much less strict on him than me. But strict in the sense of just like guidelines. I think they raised me really well along with my siblings, but knowing… not having that pressure from your parents that I think some children do to be a certain person, and to of course having good grades was important. My mom is a teacher, or she was a teacher as well, so school was always very, very important. Some kids, if they don't get straight A's every single time, their parents might come down on them very harshly. Luckily, that wasn't the case for my parents. They would just encourage and help us where they could. Actually, my mom, she was a math teacher and a math tutor, so that really helped. I can honestly say she was the best math teacher I've ever had, and I never really had her in school. So that was helpful.
James McKinney: That's awesome. So a civil engineer and math, so there's definitely a foundation in engineering and mathematics in your house for sure, which obviously plays a part in the long game for you. So let's talk about your junior and senior year. Junior and senior year for most people, we're fleshing out what we want to do, who we want to become. What was that for you? What did you think you wanted to do? Again, you're 27 so that's really 10 years ago. So what did you think you wanted to do at that point in time in your life?
Eva Gerrits: I had no idea what my ultimate career would be. I think I wanted to be in the city. I wanted to wear business professional clothes, but what job I'd be going to every day, I wasn't really sure. I took a trip, I think it was in my around junior year, like that summer. I went to the Netherlands because I have a lot of family there. I was in the car with my aunt and uncle and we're driving through the beautiful farm land of Holland, and I would just see traditional windmills and then wind turbines like right next to, and I just thought it was really cool.
From that point, I came back and I realized that renewable energy and the environment is important, and it's the future. I wanted to do something that was business related, but had to do with the environment, making the world better, cleaner.
James McKinney: So when you come back, now you've got to kind of make a decision on whether you want to go to trade school, whether you want to go to college. Your parents raised you in a way that was there was a bit of freedom in that choice. What did you choose and why?
Eva Gerrits: College. I knew that I always wanted to go. My parents did encourage all of us to go and but ultimately it was definitely my choice, and I started just looking at different schools and trying to find a major that I think would fit what I wanted to do. I remember there's this huge book I think they would give out to college kids. It explained every major that you could have, and I just remember reading through it and trying to think okay, so this major maybe matches what I want to do but I don't know. Maybe I should do something more broad. I ultimately went for environmental studies.
James McKinney: Is it safe to assume typical college route, four years, some internships?
Eva Gerrits: That's what I was hoping for. It was going to be that typical four years and I actually had a longer journey that I couldn't really plan for. So I first went to a private school in Long Island, New York. Realized that it was just not for me. It was almost too small and it was mainly a commuter school. Me being from New Jersey, it just wasn't a good fit. So I came home. I actually went to community college for about I would say a year and a half, just trying to figure out. I was applying to other colleges that were near my house. I even applied to ones that were in Florida. Ultimately got into Rutgers and just decided all right, that's where I'm going to go. My sister was actually already going there and that's where I ended up. Eventually, five and a half years in total of college, I graduated from Rutgers.
James McKinney: So let me ask this question, as an older child and you alluded to the fact that your parents were a little bit more strict on you as the older child, be there are roles we play, your sister being younger. And you had mentioned right there that your sister was already at Rutgers so you had gone away to college, come back home to figure out exactly where you wanted to find your place. Did that mess with you at all mentally, that your sister was already planted somewhere at Rutgers and you were back home trying to figure things out?
Eva Gerrits: I don't think so. There was definitely a lot of stress I would say, because when you, and I think anyone can attest to this, when you transfer schools they don't make it easy on purpose.
James McKinney: They do not.
Eva Gerrits: I had an environmental studies degree. That's what I was going for, and then going back to community college you're trying to figure out okay, now what classes can I take that will ultimately make the rest of my journey easier when I go to my next school? There was no pressure of, "Oh, my sister is already in school. She's on that four year path." Nothing like that. It was more just internal, like this is taking me a long time. It's not the cheapest thing, either. So that's always the debt is in the back of your head.
James McKinney: Always. So you're coming to the end of your college years. A lot of people, they get kind of they're on a set journey. Along that journey, they realize this isn't really what I want to be doing. The episode that aired last with Ladan Davia, she spent years thinking she wanted to be in journalism and broadcast television. She got to the end of her degree and is like, "I don't want to do this. This is not what I want to be doing." That isn't uncommon. Was that a journey for you, or did you know at the end that you're still on the set path you want to be, you knew exactly what that next step was. And if so, what was that next step?
Eva Gerrits: So I still had no idea what my actual job was going to be after. Honestly, because I didn't really know what jobs were available that were going to fit in my I guess vision of okay, I want to be business and kind of in a corporate setting, but also be involved in the environmental world. I don't even know where that fits or what company would need that right now. So I had two internships at my time at Rutgers, so they were kind of like two different sides of the environmental world which wasn't planned, but I'm glad that it happened that way.
So I had a job in like a watershed association and I got to see more of the nonprofit, not corporate side of where I could take my environmental career. I was basically taking pictures in parks and reporting to their website. The other one I had was at a GIS company and we were selling, it was a for-profit, it was a business. They were obviously trying to make money, but they were working with environmental organizations trying to sell them an app. That's very hard when you're trying to sell an expensive product to people who don't really have the funds. That was interesting. So I got to see two different sides and it was a great experience, but ultimately it didn't really help me to still figure out okay, but what am I going to do after.
I've always worked, so through college, since I was even 16, I've always had jobs, and a lot of the jobs are actually in the restaurant industry. I can definitely say I was a proud Hooters girl all through college. I was actually thinking about this earlier this morning, about how that job really helped to shape who I am today, and ultimately that job got me to my career today too.
James McKinney: How did that job help shape who you are today?
Eva Gerrits: Well, people can have a prejudgment I guess. Even with me saying that's where I worked through college.
James McKinney: I am confident the moment you said you were a proud Hooters girl, that immediately people started playing a certain persona in their mind.
Eva Gerrits: Exactly, yeah. When I was in Long Island at my first school, I needed a job and I need something that would pay good money. I'm like all right, this sounds fun and seems like you can make more money than if I just went to like a Fridays or a Diner, so I did it. I worked alongside other women who were just paying their way through college. Super driven, had goals, and just like wanted to make good money, and that was the place to do it. There's definitely a lot of prejudgments that people had of me but that helped me to now that I'm in a male dominated industry, that prejudgment doesn't bother me.
James McKinney: There's so much power in that, when you are able to disconnect people's opinions from your own personal identity. That's awesome that you figured that out in your early twenties, because a lot of people will carry that on for decades. In fact, we spoke with Goli Khalkoran a few episodes back where she has the Lessons from a Quitter podcast. It took her a long time for her to quit a job that she built a life trying to attain, but she was miserable at. Part of that hurdle for her was people's opinions. So for you to learn that at 20, man that is so powerful for you, especially given the fact that you alluded you're in a male dominated space. I am sure opinions are flying all over the place.
Eva Gerrits: Yes, yes. It was, you know, it was definitely hard but yeah. I just didn't let it bother me. I just really tried to separate okay, people are going to have these pre judgments of you and any part of your life they could. But they're judging you on things that they have no idea about it I guess, for lack of better words. That's what a pre judgment is. It's a judgment without any real solid facts, and it's hearsay, and it's over thinking.
James McKinney: And the reality is that other people's opinions play no role in you building your dreams, period.
Eva Gerrits: Right.
James McKinney: And we give it too much power. Again, I just love that you learned that and owned that at such a young age. What a great way to own it, to like you said a few minutes ago, "I am a proud Hooters girl." That is hilarious. I love that. So you worked your way through college and you had a job at a GIS where you found yourself in sales, which I assume that when you were thinking of being in the environmental sustainability space, sales was probably not something that you thought you would end up doing. Were you surprised that you were put into a sales role?
Eva Gerrits: Yes, I definitely was because even being in the restaurant industry, that is considered a sales job but to me at that time, it wasn't. When I was in college and thinking okay, what job do I want when I eventually graduate, and sales was not going to be one of them because it's just… I guess it was a stability thing, too. You want to come out of college, you have all this debt, and you want to find a job that is going to be able to support you, where you can grow but also is going to pay back all this money that you just spent.
While sales is I think extremely rewarding, you can make a lot of money, there's not that stability. I think being in college, I wanted to come out and have something that was stable. So no, sales was not what I thought I was going to do. But the way that it worked is in my last semester of Rutgers and then in every job after that up until the one I have now, was all sales.
James McKinney: That was your journey at that point, from that moment on.
Eva Gerrits: Yeah, it's like all right, guess I'm going to do this.
James McKinney: I love it. I love it. So now you're a proud sales person. That's awesome. So what is that first step after you finish college? So how old were you when you finished?
Eva Gerrits: I have to really think about it because I didn't have that four years, and I kind of like ended during the winter actually and then had my official graduation in the summer. So I would have been 24-ish, yeah. Around there, between 23 and 24 maybe.
James McKinney: So just a couple years ago. What was your first step out of college? Did you get that job that you wanted in the city, dressing professional? Did you get the job that you kind of had that persona for?
Eva Gerrits: No, and when I had said before that the Hooters job brought me to my career, one day when I was bartending I made a connection to someone who is the solar industry, and them knowing the degree that I was finishing up, I was able to go work for this pretty large solar company at the time, and that's exciting. But it was actually a job where I was going door to door, sales, to residents. So I was going to homeowners and when I was I guess interviewing for the job, they had originally told me, "You know what, I don't think this is really going to work for you. You're still finishing up." They didn't come out and say, "You're young and you're a woman, and this is a door to door residential sales job." But they were maybe in a way trying to look out for me because it is hard to do. I remember being on the phone with the GM and just saying, "No, no, no. I'm going to do it. I'll be fine. I'll see you next week."
James McKinney: How many other female sales people were with that company doing door to door?
Eva Gerrits: Not that many. I can't even remember the faces of any other females. I'm sure that there were some, but I was definitely the youngest woman who was in that office.
James McKinney: That is a hard gig, door to door sales.
Eva Gerrits: Yeah.
James McKinney: Sales is challenging in and of itself, but door to door sales, oh man. Because no one wants you to come to their door. There is no way to make that an enjoyable experience from minute one, because you've already disrupted their moment, whatever they were doing internally, and you've disrupted so that is a hard gig. I'm sure you learned a ton in that process.
Eva Gerrits: Yeah. It was really, really hard. The money in solar is great, but I honestly was only there for a few months because I just couldn't take the day to day. I was so unhappy doing that type of sale, because it just didn't work for me personally, that the money at that point did not matter. I just couldn't do the physical day to day.
James McKinney: It's great that you had that awareness, that it's not authentic to who you are and you had to get out of that. So what did you do after that? What was your next step?
Eva Gerrits: So I actually went back to the company that I had internship with, the GIS company. That's when I really started to actually get into the sales of it. It was fun. I did learn a lot. I had a lot of freedom in that job, because my boss actually was travelling most of the time. I got the experience of how to kind of start crafting a business, organizing a business, and I learned how to even build websites at that job too, because they needed someone who could run their blogs and just make it look better.
James McKinney: Was it a small company?
Eva Gerrits: Really small, yeah. It was just me, one other person in the office. My boss would be travelling from Jersey to Korea, and he had I guess some other people in the tech side of it spread throughout.
James McKinney: Yeah, small companies, that's one of the big perks of small companies. You can learn a ton of different aspects of an enterprise that you just can't get in a huge organization, so that's awesome.
Eva Gerrits: Yeah. Eventually after that, someone from the solar company that I was at before was starting their own business. It was going to be residential solar, commercial solar, commercial energy, and asked if I wanted to come on board because they knew the work ethic that I had. I told them… Well, it took me actually a while to decide do I want to go and work for a company that's just opening? It's small, it's from the ground up, there's still not that stability there. Or should I keep applying to large businesses or companies, or firms in New York City? Probably took me about a month or so to really decide okay, I'm going to go for the company that's starting up.
James McKinney: Why? Why did it take you a month?
Eva Gerrits: I was really weighing what's going to be better for me in the long run. If I took a job in New York City or just a company that's already established, I would have stability but then moving up in those type of companies can be really difficult. You can't just grow your way to the top as easily as like a startup. You're not there from before. So that was actually what made my decision. So let me take a little bit of a risk, but hopefully it's going to be rewarding in the end, and it kind of was.
James McKinney: Startup is the Wild West. Anyone who has birthed something from nothing understands how crazy it is. So what was that season like for you, with that company? A new solar company, you were brought on to know your work ethic. What was your job that they brought you on for? What was the role?
Eva Gerrits: One of the first things I told them before I signed on was I am not doing door to door residential sales. It's not happening. So if you want to bring me on for commercial, I want to be in B2B, and I will gladly do that. So luckily, that's what I got. I was able to be there from the beginning so I could be the first person, and in the beginning the only person in the commercial department and help grow the company from that point. Being 25 at that time, it sounded like this was the best opportunity, and I'm growing this company and I'm shaping this department the way that I want, and I'm learning so many things, and this sounds awesome. I'm basically like my own boss at 25. It sounded great and I realized that the place where I was at, it wasn't the case. It ended up being the complete opposite as months went on.
James McKinney: How so?
Eva Gerrits: We had like I said commercial and residential type of business, and a lot of the focus was more on residential. That was one of the reasons. So growing the commercial part of the business was difficult when you don't have that support. I was in a very male dominated industry. The business was male dominated. The other upper level management was also all guys. I mean, I worked with some really, really great people. But there were some times where I definitely felt that being a woman there, I was not as heard and as respected. Ultimately, when you're not given the tools to success and they kind of just leave you to hopefully grow it without any funds or support, it's very difficult.
James McKinney: Do you feel that was because they didn't believe in the commercial side of the business or because of their mindset being within, they're in a male dominated industry. It is male dominated. For those listeners that don't believe, you can check the statistics, the percentages of female executive leadership inside of energy is abysmally low. Why do you think that you weren't given the resources to build that book of business?
Eva Gerrits: Looking back on it now, I think that the beginning of it was okay, I think maybe the owners don't see commercial as profitable. Maybe they think that it's harder to grow, which it is because commercial sales takes longer than residential. That's what I had thought for maybe half of my time there. It's not what they think of me, it's not what I'm doing wrong. It's just maybe this is just the business. As time went on, I started to kind of see the unfairness in the workplace as a woman.
James McKinney: What were you seeing?
Eva Gerrits: There would be other males coming in to fill equally upper level management positions as I, and getting paid six figures when I was very, very below that. So there was already, and it was something I found out after I had left. But huge difference between pay scale. But also a huge difference in that pay scale between work and responsibilities, meaning that my work and responsibilities was greater than someone who was actually getting paid much, much more than me.
One of the times that really sticks out, and it was one of those realization moments of, "Wow, okay. This is not just the business. It's not just the industry. This actually might be a problem I'm having in the company I'm with, by who is running the company." There was a trip. Every year they have a huge solar convention and I ran the commercial side of the department, so I was promised that I would go on the trip because there were so many things that we can go there and benefit and learn from. It was about just a few weeks before we were going to go and my boss came in and basically said, "We're thinking about this trip and I don't think that you're going to be able to go with us. But if you were a guy, you would be going."
James McKinney: Wow. Oh my goodness.
Eva Gerrits: Yeah.
James McKinney: What was going through your head at that moment? Because now, the things that you had assumed to be the case as far as them viewing you inferior, the separation of male and female within the firm, those are all assumptions prior to this moment. So when this just became real, what was going through your head?
Eva Gerrits: In that moment, I was obviously really shocked. I kind of didn't know what to say. What made it worse is I actually had a new employee who was a woman in the room with me.
James McKinney: And she heard it?
Eva Gerrits: Heard it and this is one of her first times actually meeting one of the owners. So that wasn't good. In that moment, I was shocked. Didn't know what to say, and I was just kind of thinking okay, maybe he didn't mean it like that. I don't know what he was trying to say, but it couldn't have been that blatantly sexist out loud. I think speaking for myself, being in just in the professional world, you don't want to automatically think that someone is thinking or saying something that's sexist. You want to believe that their opinions aren't that.
James McKinney: Yeah, of course.
Eva Gerrits: But I can't speak for him. I don't know why he said it or what the real reason was, but to me it was the way that you choose to say something and the way that you choose to think of something and then say it says a lot. Because you could… he could have maybe said something differently that was not along those blatant lines, but he didn't. His first thought was to give me a reason that was obviously came off and was very sexist, instead of saying it differently. So it's not just the words, it's the thought that he had to want to say it that way, out loud.
It was shocking. It was obviously upsetting, and it really just made it real for me that it's not just the industry, it's not just what's going to be more profitable, this side of the business or the one that I'm on. I think it's the opinion of what they have of me, even though I was told all the time how much of an asset I was, and how hard working I was, and how much they appreciate everything I was doing for the company. That may have been said to me almost every day, but these are the real thoughts that are going on.
James McKinney: How long from that moment until you… because after this, you left to start your own business, correct?
Eva Gerrits: Yes.
James McKinney: How long from that moment until you leaving? What's the time span in that?
Eva Gerrits: There was still a decent amount of time. I would say maybe at least six months before leaving.
James McKinney: What was going on internally during that six months, now knowing everything? You knew now what the situation was, what their opinion was of you. You knew their opinion of male, female leadership. What was going on in your mindset during those six months? Were you strategically just planning your exit? Were you thinking you could somehow salvage the situation? What was going on in your mind?
Eva Gerrits: Probably for half of the time of my remaining six months or so, I wanted to stay. I wanted to salvage. I really did like the company. I liked the people that I worked with and I really liked doing what I was doing every single day. Being in the industry and selling the services I was selling to businesses. So I didn't want to leave because I think I had some sense of comfort there and I still had this hope that okay, it's a small business. Obviously, things are not as I hoped they would be but maybe this is somewhat the same reaction I'll get if I go somewhere else. I didn't know.
I really wanted to stay and try to see if it was going to work. Then as the months went on, nothing got better. We still weren't getting the support that we needed to grow the company. There's other things that were going on that I really had to stop and think okay, this kind of thing wouldn't happen in a normal company or shouldn't.
James McKinney: Like what?
Eva Gerrits: Disorganization of the company.
James McKinney: Just general leadership, operational, yeah.
Eva Gerrits: Leadership, how they operate, and just like business practices. Things that I'm thinking about a business that's well functioning wouldn't happen.
James McKinney: Let me ask this question that is not necessarily directly applied to your journey, but it is because of your journey. The sexism in the workplace, it's all over. It's everywhere, right? And the reality is I don't think it will ever go away because you're dealing with the human heart and human condition, and people are flawed, period. But nevertheless, people that find themselves in that situation like you were, what do you say to young females that find themselves in that spot, an industry that's male dominated, in a culture that doesn't have equal respect for males and females. What do you say to those listeners that are in a spot you were in six or seven months ago?
Eva Gerrits: I would first say to them that it's a very difficult spot to be in. You want to excel in your career and if that's the company that you think you can do it in, it's going to be really difficult to stand up for yourself or even possibly leave. But please stand up for yourself. Don't let someone disrespect you just because you are a woman. Get really good at what you're doing. Become an expert in your field so that even if someone does decide to say something sexist to you, ultimately you're going to win because you're going to be better at your job than they are at theirs.
James McKinney: That's awesome. I would also add too, just surround yourself by other equally driven women.
Eva Gerrits: Yeah.
James McKinney: Powerful women empower women, so that's fantastic. So now, spoiler alert, you leave that company to start Energetek. So let's talk about one, what is Energetek, and how was that transition from employee to entrepreneur?
Eva Gerrits: We work with businesses and also nonprofits. We do cost containment for them and energy procurement. So I'll explain it.
James McKinney: Yes, please, because I was thinking to myself cost containment? What? Go ahead.
Eva Gerrits: Yeah. So we're energy brokers and also consultants. So we help businesses lower their cost in energy, but also find really customized and creative ways to lower those costs. That's kind of where the cost containment aspect comes in. We're mainly service based. We're not selling a product, which makes it much easier than my GIS company that I was working for. We focus on renewable energy as well, so for those businesses who want to go solar, we do the full path to install for them.
James McKinney: So can you give us a use case on what an engagement looks like, if a company wanted to come to you. What does that look like, what is your offering? Is it just solar? Help us to understand more about what Energetek does for a specific company.
Eva Gerrits: There's deregulation in most states and that just means that you have the ability to shop for the supply part of your power. So we mainly actually work with a lot of manufacturers. So me and my business partner, Kristen, will go to these manufacturers. We take a look at their utility bills. Find out what they're spending, what type of machines they have, and just really dive into their energy costs. Then we'll come back to them and bring back cost savings analysis and try to get them refunds if we can. Then, if they want to go renewable, we get them set up with solar companies.
James McKinney: So given your past experience at the previous company with that incredible offensive moment you had with the previous owner, you now have a company where you are going into these plants and facilities that are led by males. How has that impacted your approach with your venture?
Eva Gerrits: I have so much more confidence than I had when I was working in the restaurant, than when I was in my old company. Now, being more experienced in the industry, having that confidence, knowing what it was like to deal with being a woman in male dominated spaces. When we walk up to these huge manufacturers and oil refineries, we actually have so much confidence that we could just walk in, ask for the COO or CEO, give them our pitch and tell them why we're here and how we can help. If it wasn't for I think the experiences, bad and good, that I had, I don't think I would be as confident right now in our business. Me and Kristen, my business partner, we love what we do.
James McKinney: You've said it a few times that you love what you do. Why? What is it about what you do that excites you? You're going to have challenges. Your company is just a few months old. You're coming across some challenges and obstacles, but it's your passion that's going to carry you through those challenges and obstacles, so what is it about what you do that you love so much?
Eva Gerrits: Being in sales, which is something I again never thought I was going to be doing, this type of job allows me to have every day is a little bit different. For us, it's exciting. We get to walk into these crazy looking manufacturing plants and learn about their production and what they're doing. If you ask Kristen, the way that when we're in the field as we call it and we're trying to figure out where we want to go, I will be in Port Richmond in Philly and try to find the craziest looking refinery that we possibly can, and that's where I want to go, and I want a tour. I always ask for one.
James McKinney: What is it that fascinates you about those refineries and factories? I don't think that is obviously for everyone, but you just… and as we unpack that I can see your excitement. What is it about those that excites you?
Eva Gerrits: Well, one of the reasons and I've never really thought about it until now is there aren't a lot of women in those places. There's definitely not a lot of women walking up to those places trying to work with them or sell them something. I kind of like being in that different space.
James McKinney: You like being a pioneer.
Eva Gerrits: Yeah.
James McKinney: That's awesome. When you look back on your career, and I ask these last two questions to all founders on The Startup Story, and you see all the people and all the moments that have contributed to shape who you are today, who do you have such incredible gratitude towards because of their contribution in your journey? And I ask that question because I believe that the moment we stop remembering that we are a culmination of all the people who have poured into us, when we forget that we're inevitably going to fail because we're going to start thinking we did this all on our own. Who are you so thankful for?
Eva Gerrits: Definitely my parents. Through all the jobs I've had, through my extended years at college, to starting my own business which is extremely hard and there's not stability yet. They've always just been so supportive. I look at them and I actually didn't mention this before, but they bought a farm three years ago. Mainly because that's just something they've always wanted to do, and even though they're in their careers, they have kids who are now either in college or starting their careers, that was one of their dreams. Instead of not doing it just because they're older than they once were and there's a lot of things going on, they just did it anyway. I think that was really inspiring to me. It doesn't matter what age you're at or what you're doing, what's going on, how busy you are. Make sure you hit that goal no matter what.
James McKinney: That is awesome. Last question as our time comes to a close is I want you to talk to one of our listeners specifically. Whether it be the entrepreneur who has started a business and is not getting a lot of traction, whether it's the reluctant entrepreneur who's working a 9 to 5 right now but has a book full of dreams and ideas, but maybe it's because they're married with responsibilities and a mortgage maybe, or maybe because they're 60 years old and they just think they're too old to start something. Whatever that may be, they're just hesitant to move on their dreams and their business. Maybe you want to talk to the defeated entrepreneur, the one who has tried over and over and over again, and continues to hit walls of failure, and now they're starting to think they just can't do it. Whoever it is you want to speak to, I want you to envision yourself at a coffee shop in downtown New York and you're having this conversation, looking for guidance and mentorship from you. What do you say to one of those people?
Eva Gerrits: One thing I will definitely say is do not be afraid to share your opinions and share your ideas. Because that's something that I didn't always do. I would be sometimes hesitant to share what I think we should do when I was sitting in a meeting, surrounded by other people and surrounded by mainly other men. I realized that the ideas that I have and the ideas that you, who I'm speaking to, have are actually really good. Don't be afraid that they're not going to be good enough.
James McKinney: I hope hearing Eva's story accomplishes two things. The first thing I hope is that my male listeners are a bit more aware that sexism is still very real and that our sisters in entrepreneurship may have a different journey than we do, and we need to bring their stories to the surface. The second thing I hope Eva's story accomplishes is that it broadens the canvas of opportunity for everyone. Eva and her cofounder Kristen are paving a way for themselves in an industry that most people would not even attempt to traverse. How many of us have minimized our goals and ambitions because the road ahead appears way too challenging? Eva and Energetek are now providing a new narrative within the energy sector, and I hope tremendous things for Eva and her cofounder Kristen.
If you found real value in Eva's journey, if you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know what my next ask is. My next ask is about supporting Eva. It's about giving back to her for what she gave to us by sharing her journey. So there's a couple ways we can support Eva in her journey, in her new startup Energetek. The first is follow @EnergetekBiz on Instagram. Now, the spelling is a little unique, so it's picture Energy, E-N-E-R-G-E-T-E-K-B-I-Z on Instagram. You know what? If you just go to TheStartupStory.co Instagram we're going to have all kinds of links to her Instagram profile. You can follow Energetek there, also in the show notes. The second thing you can do is if you're a listener in the Pennsylvania or New Jersey area, you can support Eva and Kristen's startup by connecting her with any points of contact that you have in the industrial space. Think about oil refineries, manufacturers, finishers, or suppliers in the Pennsylvania and New Jersey area. You can find her LinkedIn link in the show notes, so just simply reach out to her on LinkedIn, mention The Startup Story. Help connect her with some of your points of contact within those industries. I say it all the time. Entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs, so let's make sure to show Eva some support for the value she brought us today.
And now, for my personal ask. The Startup Story community has been so incredible with sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We are a startup and the most powerful way you can support The Startup Story podcast is to leave a review on Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcast. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory.co. Share The Startup Story on your social media, either with a link or a screenshot. Make sure you tag or mention us @TheStartupStory.co so we can see your help and say thank you for it.
Lastly, share the podcast on your LinkedIn profile. The Startup Story is for entrepreneurs, so please do not underestimate the power of sharing The Startup Story on your LinkedIn profile so other entrepreneurs can discover us. In fact, most people struggle to share good content on LinkedIn anyways, so if you want to support The Startup Story then search for The Startup Story company page, follow us, and share our posts to help encourage other founders and spread the word about the podcast. Every single founder has a story, and the startup stories we bring you every week can encourage and inspire another founder. It might just be what they needed to hear to keep moving forward on their dreams. I look forward to sharing these stories every Tuesday with hopes to inspire you to start YOUR story.