Sol Systems - Stephanie Smith, COO

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Company: Sol Systems, Washington, DC, USA
Company Description:Stephanie Smith is an experienced clean energy lawyer and leader in solar finance. In her multi-faceted role as Sol Systems’ COO, Stephanie oversees building out an effective, fast-growing company, west coast business development, and key partner transactions that have been instrumental in leading the firm to secure financing for nearly 200MW of distributed generation solar projects.
Nomination Category:Individual Awards Categories
Nomination Sub Category:Female Executive of the Year – Business Services –11 to 2,500 Employees

Nomination Title: Stephanie Smith, COO

Describe for the judges the activities and accomplishments of the nominated executive since the beginning of July last year (up to 525 words):

On the finance side, Ms. Smith structures and negotiates the innovative project finance and acquisition transaction structures that Sol Systems uses with its channel partners to finance and acquire small commercial solar energy projects. Making these transactions efficient, cost-effective, and repeatable, while balancing fundamental concerns and requirements of investors, is the key innovation needed to make smaller commercial solar transactions viable. In her role as General Counsel, Ms. Smith oversaw the firm’s legal team, which structures and negotiates solar transactions on behalf of Sol Systems’ vast solar developer and investor network.

Earlier this year, Stephanie launched Sol Systems’ San Francisco office, leading the charge in the company’s expansion west. Throughout the cross-country move and company expansion, she has remained critical and diligent in working with the company to bring investors to the solar asset class and to fund projects with off-takers, such as a churches and schools, which may have not otherwise found project funding due to credit limitations.

As COO of Sol Systems, Ms. Smith is responsible for the company’s quickly expanding business operations. In this role, she has created innovative and efficient processes and transactional instruments to streamline solar project finance and create a competitive advantage for Sol Systems. Additionally, she has worked to bring new, first-time investors to the solar asset class, and to fund some of the most challenging solar projects, including schools and churches that may have not otherwise found funding. To date, the company has facilitated financing for approximately 145 MW of solar energy projects across the United States, enough to power approximately 16,500 homes and take over 25,000 cars off the road. Project sizes range from 227 kW to 20 MW in size. In 2014 alone, the firm will finance nearly 100 MW of secure, sustainable solar assets. Before Ms. Smith joined the firm, only one solar project had been successfully financed. This is a testament to the expertise she brought to the team during her years as a clean energy lawyer.

Mentorship is the pillar of Ms. Smith’s leadership style. She makes time to mentor all members of the Sol Systems team, but especially the women. Sol Systems is an outlier in clean energy and the financial services industries, which has 41% women, as compared to 19% in the solar industry overall. As Sol Systems’ COO, she has fostered a sense of community among the women, known internally as the "Sol Sisters". She encourages all women to openly discuss each other’s successes, challenges, and general interests at monthly lunches. She also sets the tone of a conversational Sol Sisters listserve. The sense of camaraderie is authentic, enabling the women to be candid, vulnerable and, ultimately, stronger for being in the community of women.

Sol Systems is unique in the energy industry in terms of number of women employees, who represent thirty-five percent of the team. As the primary hiring manager, Ms. Smith is diligent in striving for an equitable gender balance. Her management style is empowering, and she is steadfast in ensuring the career and personal development of a largely young staff.

Provide a brief biography of the nominated executive (up to 125 words):

After graduating cum laude from Southern Methodist University Law School, Ms. Smith started as a lawyer in the Global Project Finance group at Baker Botts LLP. Soon after, Ms. Smith, together with her colleagues, created a renewable energy project finance and development practice at Alston & Bird, which later transferred to Cooley LLC. The Energy Infrastructure, Climate, and Technology practice thrived with Ms. Smith serving as its Senior Associate. Years later, her former junior associate Yuri Horwitz, called on her to join the executive team of Sol Systems, a rapidly growing start up in solar finance. She said “yes” and began as General Counsel, now serves as Chief Operating Officer. Where she is the only female C-level executive.