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February 2014

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IBUS Class Takes on International Marketing Challenge

sunrunner pictureWhat are some international marketing options for a portable, plug and play solar device? A group of international business students is currently researching that very question. SUNRNR ("SunRunner") of Virginia, Inc., has asked an International Business class to help develop a marketing plan for the product.

The SunRunner project is an excellent example of CoB students engaging in experiential learning through participating in real world projects.

The SunRunner energy generator is often the solution for off the grid, supplemental, backup electricity needs.  This generator is also referred to as "entry-level residential solar," "solar electric system," "microgrid," "backup power supply,, "solar kit," "off the grid power system," "disaster response equipment," and "preparedness asset."

With so many different perceptions of the product out there, Owners Jenny and Scott French realized they needed some help in defining and marketing their product.

The portable solar device stores 2,000 watts of power. It is often used in industries, such as mining or construction for power at remote or off grid sites. The company has also targeted third-world countries as a feasible market.

Product attributes include minimal maintenance, a long life span, and expandability of product.

The specific goals for the class include:

  • Developing an export business plan
  • Recommending target regions and methods
  • Defining advantages/marketing options

The Frenchs recently brought a sample SunRunner to campus, and explained the product to the class. They noted that currently seven percent of total sales are non U.S.

Jenny French notes that “Initially we thought that doomsday preppers were the market, but eventually learned that third world countries with power issues were a more likely market. People who need these most can’t afford them, without financial assistance from government or altruistic organizations.” She adds that educating people about electricity is a large part of the marketing job.

The Frenchs have worked closely with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership's export office to learn more about export opportunities for the product. According to the website, “Virginia Economic Development Partnership (VEDP) promotes international trade for companies throughout Virginia.

Our mission is to increase the number of Virginia companies selling overseas and their volume of international business, year after year. We assist both new and experienced exporters enter new international markets.

We identify potential new markets, develop market entry strategies and locate possible distributors and representatives for products or services—all at little to no cost.”

Export Virginia International Trade Representative Caitlin Clark visited the class along with the Frenchs, and outlined the support services offered by the agency. She told the class that her office works with seven consultants around the world who can help companies work in local markets internationally.

The Frenchs are looking forward to hearing the class recommendations on marketing at the end of the semester, and incorporating ideas as appropriate for the company.