If at First You Don't Succeed...

Marcus ShantzIn 1979, my father helped Cal Redekop launch a solar energy business. My dad, Milo Shantz, was an entrepreneur with a grade eight education, and was involved in many different small businesses. Cal was a professor of Sociology here at Grebel. The two were great (if somewhat unlikely) friends.

Cal’s idea was to use solar panels to heat buildings. Milo helped to set Cal up with space and some accounting support. He also invested in the business—called “Sunflower Solar”—along with a number of other investors. Obviously, they wanted the business to be financially successful. They also hoped to be a small part of an energy revolution that would one day eliminate the need for fossil fuels.

The business shut down after a few years. The technology at the time was costly and unreliable, and Sunflower Solar could not find customers for their system. As Cal remarked, “it was ahead of its time.”

I don’t remember either my father or Cal dwelling on this entrepreneurial failure for very long. Both picked themselves up and began new projects, taking knowledge and lessons from the experience. Their attitude was that it’s better to fail than never to try at all.

Reading stories of Grebel alumni working in “tech for good” in this edition of Grebel Now brought Cal Redekop’s solar business to mind. Many of these alumni work in start-up businesses—including a number of start-ups in the Grebel Peace Incubator. They are all trying to apply new ideas to pressing social, economic, and environmental problems.

We hope that many of these projects will succeed—but we know that some won’t, even when great people give their best efforts. For example, Demine Robotics, a Grebel Peace Incubator start-up from 2016-2021, developed technology to clear landmines in Cambodia and around the world.

Despite talented leadership and remarkable international attention and interest, Demine’s founders decided to wind up the business earlier this year. Co-founder and CTO Jared Baribeau, a Grebel alumnus, has taken his experience at Demine to a new startup focused on making the global textile industry more sustainable. Far from being disheartened, Jared remains upbeat about the capacity for entrepreneurship to instigate positive change: “It only takes one person with a different mindset to inspire and motivate people, to breathe new energy into a problem and bring new perspectives. This is important from a generational standpoint because differences will unlock solutions that a previous generation would not have thought of.”

I imagine that Cal Redekop and my father would agree with Jared wholeheartedly! They might add that older generations can also set the stage for future solutions by trying to develop new ideas—even if they don’t work out at the time.

The presence of many STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students in our residence and classrooms is one of the delights of Grebel. Tech students have been part of the College since we were founded in the 1960s. Grebel presents them with the opportunity to link formal studies with big questions of ethics, peace, social justice, and faith.

Many Grebel alumni have brought technological expertise to pressing problems in fascinating ways. Building on this experience, we now operate the Grebel Peace Incubator and the PeaceTech Living-Learning Community. We’ve also developed courses like “Peace and Engineering” and “Math for Good and Evil” to more deliberately connect technical knowledge with the values we espouse.

In this issue of Grebel Now, you’ll find profiles of alumni who have tried to apply science and technology to good purposes. I hope you are as intrigued and inspired by their stories as I am.