By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.
She has not even lived three decades yet, but Mary Shafer Gill says that she feels the calling to make an impact as soon as possible. In reality, she already has.
“I’m not at age 30 yet, but I have to get a lot done,” the Vice President for ARiES Energy, LLC told us in a recent interview with teknovation.biz. ARiES is a Lenoir City-based energy contracting firm focused on turn-key renewable energy systems that help customers avoid rising energy costs and provide the quickest return on their investment.
The Virginia native came to the region in 2008 to help with the City of Knoxville’s “Solar America Cities” grant. Gill had just graduated from Virginia Tech with a degree in Urban Affairs and Planning.
“The opportunity to work with the city drove me here,” she said, citing her passion for sustainability. “I’ve always been passionate about the environment, but I also love design.” The latter interest was also piqued by the then redevelopment of the downtown area.
By the end of 2008, Gill had met Harvey Abouelata, the President of ARiES, through her work with local solar installers. At the time, Abouelata was Sales and Marketing Director with Sustainable Future, LLC.
“I jumped at the opportunity to join Sustainable Future,” she says where her role as a Solar Account Manager and Consultant. The two have been business colleagues since then, including stints with two East Tennessee-based solar contractors before the founding of ARiES.
“I became a partner in ARiES shortly after it was founded in late 2011,” Gill explained.
ARiES stands for Alternative Renewable Innovative Energy Solutions. While it is focused mostly on clients in East Tennessee, Gill says the “solutions company” is focusing on other states including Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and West Virginia.
Abouelata regularly praises Gill’s work in helping Aries’ clients find grant money. She says that she did not have experience writing grants, but was successful with her first submission in 2009. The client was Wampler’s Farm Sausage, and she wrote three winning grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“I’ve found my place in the industry,” Gill says in her matter of fact manner. In addition to selling systems, she also specializes in helping find the return on investment for companies. This is an area where her knowledge is particularly beneficial with ever-changing state policies and incentives, coupled with what she describes as “a lot of misinformation about cost.”
“It’s really something that anyone can do,” Gill explains about interested businesses, adding that ARiES “gets creative in helping customers.”
ARiES is also moving into the biomass area, something that Gill describes as part of the firm’s diversification strategy.
As far as the future, she says she wants to see the company “at another level,” operating nationally if not internationally. Such a goal makes sense, considering the self-professed pressure to get a lot done.
To realize her dream, Gill recognizes that her advice for others is something that is critical to her future. “Take yourself out of your comfort zone,” she says. “Be willing to pursue goals and take risks now while you can.”