best buy beats by dre headphones CleanLife Energy beats competition to LED market
Justin Miller is only 29 years old, but he’s been an entrepreneur for most of his life.
Miller, who today is the CEO and founder of LED lighting and component manufacturer CleanLife Energy, first got the entrepreneurial itch when he was 13 and learned HTML from a middle school web design class. He used his skills to start a sports blog funded by selling online ads to local restaurants and to build websites for businesses owned by his friends’ parents.
Later, while attending Miami University, he booked and sold tickets to concerts and other on campus events. Then he studied abroad and, later, moved to China, launching an English Chinese translation service and a branding and marketing consulting company to help American companies enter the Chinese market.
“I’m a 29 year old with 16 years of business experience,” Miller says today. “I was fortunate enough to learn my business lessons at a much younger age, both domestically and internationally. I’ve been able to build the right network of contacts and take the right steps to prevent those mistakes from happening again.”
Miller knew he had found a winning business proposition when he saw the emerging market for LED technology while living in China. At the time, Miller “saw the future and the potential” with it, and was passionate about LED’s environmental benefits.
He saw LED as high quality light that’s more energy efficient, lasts longer and free of hazardous substances, he says, with a safer manufacturing process than traditional lighting. and launched CleanLife in October 2011, initially focusing on selling LED lighting for vending machines and, later, for refrigeration and outdoor signs.
The company cleared $500,000 in sales its first year, but learned that LED technology was cost prohibitive for many businesses “probably 20 to 30 times more expensive than it is right now,” he says.
Convincing customers to choose the pricier option was tough Miller flew around the country hosting lunch and learns with architects, designers and engineers to demonstrate the technology in person.
“A quick little e mail blurb that didn’t do the trick,” he says. “We had to get our product and our face and our brand in front of these customers.”
Successfully scaling CleanLife also was a challenge, because the company needed bigger facilities, more testing equipment and the capacity to hire more staff. Miller says he found an ally in the city of Cleveland, which has offered equipment loans, job creation grants and vacant property initiatives.
That allowed CleanLife to bring some of its technology in house and build a local engineering team with talent recruited from Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University.
“We were able to utilize our local resources to help grow the company,” Miller says.
Industry trends are also on their side: In the last few years, LED lighting has become more affordable, and CleanLife had a competitive advantage because it had beat other, larger companies to market.
“We were able to get ourselves in front of some very big, Fortune 500 level customers that have stayed loyal to us and have become major customers,” Miller says.
The company currently has 20 employees in Cleveland and one in Italy, and Miller says they plan to create about 35 to 40 jobs in the next three years locally in manufacturing, engineering and supply chain.
“CleanLife was the right time, the right place, the right people, the right time in my business career,” Miller says. “The right time of getting in with the technology in the early stage. It was really timing. Everything fell in place.”