By Trevor Stewart
Chris Soderquist MBA ’98 knows his late father, Charles Soderquist M.S. ’73 Ph.D. ’78, cast a large shadow. Charles was seen as an entrepreneurial icon in Northern California and was heavily engaged with his alma mater, the University of California, Davis.
While Soderquist admits his father’s legacy could be intimidating, he believes it drove him to blaze his own trail. That’s exactly what he is doing with his most recent business venture, Repower Yolo, a solar company that helps his fellow Yolo County, California, property owners make the switch to solar energy.
Soderquist, a Cal Aggie Alumni Association Life Member and donor to the university, has started nearly two dozen businesses, ranging from tech incubators to software companies. In addition to his deep gratitude for his father, he credits the UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM) for providing him with top-notch education. (See video)
“I love the Charles Mingus quote: ‘Making the simple complicated is commonplace,’” Soderquist said. “Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
With RepowerYolo, Soderquist put his creative juices to work, helping local home and business owners simplify going solar while reducing the carbon footprint of his community.
Yolo Shines gives back
Charles, a former UC Davis Board of Regents member, former chair of the UC Davis Foundation and one of the university’s most ardent supporters, always valued philanthropy and implored others who had the means to be generous and invest in their communities.
“My dad believed anyone who was successful in the community – especially alumni – had a responsibility to give back and support the university,” Soderquist said.
Soderquist learned much from his father, including how to intersect business ventures and philanthropy. He often employs a Venn diagram to gauge whether a business meets the criteria of potential success. The typical business entrepreneur sees two circles: what they enjoy doing and how they can make money doing it. Soderquist said there is a key third circle: doing good.
With this in mind, for every customer who goes solar, Repower Yolo donates $500 to a local charity of their choice through their Yolo Shines program.
“Strengthening the fabric of our community is an imperative investment,” Soderquist said.
Soderquist’s dad is not his only family member with ties to UC Davis. He met his wife, alumna Karen Soderquist ’90 MBA ’98, in the Graduate School of Management, and his mother, Julie McBride (Soderquist) ’75 M.S. ’78 earned her B.S. and Master’s degrees from UC Davis.
Potential among Aggies to be future pioneers
Soderquist said the most pressing challenges facing our world are in food, water, energy, transportation, health and climate, and he believes no university on the planet is better equipped to engage these crises than UC Davis. He has seen firsthand the spirit of Aggie innovation in the dozens of full-time employees and student interns he’s hired over the years.
“Aggies have a humble, earnest and curious nature,” Soderquist said. “They don’t feel like the world owes them anything, and they are eager to learn, grow and make a marked impact.”
He hopes the next generation of entrepreneurs will create innovative new businesses and reinvest in the community as he and his father have.
Recently Soderquist and David Hahn ’02, former president of GoFundMe and currently executive-in-residence at two leading Silicon Valley investment firms, reunited on stage to share their experiences with burgeoning entrepreneurs at the kick-off of this year’s UC Davis Big Bang! Business Competition. Soderquist led a fast-paced Q&A with Hahn, who offered lessons learned from his work in politics to his time as one of the first employees at LinkedIn.
“Now is the perfect time to launch the company of your dreams,” Hahn said. “As your career progresses, you become more risk averse, and it only gets tougher to take these kinds of risks.”
Soderquist echoed, “If you’re afraid of failure, you will never succeed. Nothing great will ever be accomplished by those who don’t take risks.”