Start-up: SUNURU – Failure is a step toward ultimate success

SUNURU: Non-rooftop Urban Solar Power

SUNURU developed a customised lightweight net-based Concentrated Photovoltaic (CPV) system that is easily installed under any angle, above, onto or in front of buildings and other objects. Their patented support system promised to boost revenues up to 50%. A parking lot, building façade or driveway is easily transformed into a source of sustainable energy, as is demonstrated by a prototype at Stadshavens Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport, both Climate-KIC partners.



Entrepreneur Jan van Kranendonk conceived the idea for the construction during his bachelor’s at TU Delft in 2009 and elaborated on it in during his studies. Jan met Thomas de Leeuw on their masters programme and they formulated a business plan together. In 2012 they founded SUNURU officially. From the beginning their goal was clear: They were going to make solar cheaper and better accessible. The ambition was to set-up a scalable company that would revolutionise the solar market worldwide. Motto: use less material to do more.

Customer validation

In July 2013 both entrepreneurs have decided not to continue with the development of Sunuru’s business, because they feel that the initial ambitions of building a scalable company by reducing the cost of solar can’t be met within this project. Through endless customer interviews and workshops with suppliers, they unraveled that they were not going to be cost-competitive with their approach and that the design-niche they found was not a good fit with the skills and ambitions of the team.

Product-market fit
Most solar projects are third-party financed. With solar financing still in its infancy, risk minimisation is all-important. This makes the road to market for a new product a long and expensive one; customer requirements are high: in terms of track record, certification, guarantees and balance sheet. In the volatile and fast growing solar market, there is little need for extra technical risk that comes along with our new approach.

Product costs higher than expected
During joint development our approach turned out to be too costly to compete on price. This means we were destined to serve a design-focused niche.

Team’s capabilities
The new design-niche opportunity and associated challenges are so significantly different that we aren’t the right people anymore to take this further. It doesn’t fit the team’s capabilities, passion and ambition.

Future options

There is a future for better-designed solar energy in urban environments. Solar is all about costs today, but we can’t neglect that it shares its space with buildings. When a building is designed, besides costs, other aspects like appearance are extremely important. We believe solar will have to move that way too and that the SUNURU concept can play a role. On a more personal level: the whole team is infected with the entrepreneurship virus and are looking forward to put the countless lessons to work in a next project or start-up.

Get out of the building, pivot and learn

Incubated at Yes!Delft, SUNURU was one of the first start-ups participating and contributing to the Climate-KIC entrepreneurship activities. SUNURU participated in the first Venture Competition, joined most of the Master Classes. As soon as the Acceleration Programme was developed they enrolled this programme and actively participated in the Start-up tour 2012 and built a local network. It was there where they learned about the potential market in the US for their product, talked to a lot of customers about adjusted product specifications. They were selected to join a Californian incubator for the duration of their market research.

Bottom line: the founders of Sunuru utilized the offerings of the Entrepreneurship Programme to the utmost for pivoting their business model. They accomplished an impressive steep learning curve and were awarded accordingly with a stage 3 grant in the beginning of 2013. This learning curve is exactly what the goal of the Acceleration Programme is about. Climate-KIC wants to accelerate the development of start-ups. At the end of the process start-ups ideally come out with an implementation of their product for a (launching) customer(s) or find investors for scaling up their business. That’s one side of business development. The other side is the understanding of all components of your business model, potential markets, customers’ needs and sometimes the difficult, but inevitable conclusion that it is not going to work. Better to fail quick, than to continue as a zombie start-up, burning money with minimum impact.

Climate-KIC is proud on the steep learning curve and the brave decision of the entrepreneurs. And we are quite sure that these entrepreneurs will return with another brilliant idea contributing to solving the issue of Climate Change with another innovative product. Failure is a step toward ultimate success.  It’s a lesson.  A challenge. A chance.
“The founders had a clear climate-impact target for their start-up. More importantly, they also had clear targets for themselves. When the founders’ targets proved infeasible they drew the painful but correct conclusion. This proves the importance of being clear from the start on targets for both the start-up and each founder. The latter is often forgotten.”, according to their Business Coach, Joachim Blazer.



Thomas de Leeuw

+ 31 6 47 51 46 70