In this series, we ask some of Canada’s Top Growing companies to share advice on finding new and innovative routes to success in an unpredictable business environment.
It was a shared vision to build an environmentally friendly business that inspired childhood friends Ray del Cojo and Eduardo Vargas to start LEC Lighting Enhancement Corp., best known as Lightenco, a decade ago.
Both are engineers who grew up together in the central Mexican city of San Luis Potosi. They moved separately to Montreal with their families years later: Mr. Vargas in 2006 and Mr. del Cojo in 2008. Once settled, they began talking about starting their own company.
”We were always motivated by energy savings and reducing energy consumption. It sounds corny, but we were trying to do something good for the environment,” says Mr. del Cojo, Lightenco’s co-founder and chief executive officer.
Back then, energy-efficient light-emitting diode (LED) technology was just starting to gain popularity in Canada. Mr. Vargas was working for a company that sold lighting to big box stores and came up with the idea of selling LED systems to businesses, saving them energy and money.
Mr. del Cojo, who was working for home appliance company Electrolux at the time, liked the idea and brought in a third co-founder, entrepreneur Steve Hubbard (the husband of his wife’s friend), to manage sales.
Today, Ottawa-based Lightenco sells turnkey lighting systems to a range of commercial, industrial and multi-residential clients including hotels, restaurants, hospitals, office towers and condominiums. The company earned a spot on The Globe and Mail’s Top Growing Companies for 2020 list at number 185.
While the pandemic has been hard on Lightenco, including a three-month halt in operations in the spring of 2020 when a big chunk of the economy shut down, Mr. del Cojo says the company has been steadily regaining ground.
For instance, several office buildings have and continue to hire Lightenco to update their lighting while staff are still working from home. The company has also been busy installing lighting in new high-rise condo buildings going up in places like Montreal, the Greater Toronto Area and parts of southwestern Ontario.
Lightenco also plans to expand its services into other green energy solutions including solar panels, heat pumps, electrical vehicle chargers and energy audits. Mr. del Cojo and his team have been using some of the downtime during the pandemic to get training so they can deliver the new products and services.”
Hopefully, by early 2022, we’ll be able to come back with a kick in and offer the new services,” he says.
With the new services, Mr. del Cojo says the company is aiming to double its revenues within the next three years to about $6-million annually, while increasing its number of staff to 20 from 12 today. Management is working on diversifying the company’s geographic reach beyond Ontario, which accounts for about 95 per cent of sales, to other parts of Canada. The goal is to accomplish this without taking on any outside investors or going into debt.
“We’ve bootstrapped the company and we’ve never been in debt, so the ambition is the same,” says Mr. del Cojo, who now runs the company with Mr. Hubbard, co-founder and director of business development and sales. Mr. Vargas left the company last year to start another environmentally focused venture in Montreal.
Mr. del Cojo says Lightenco has no plans to export at this time, having sold its Mexican division to its partners in that country in 2018. Having an operation in another country, even one where he grew up and is familiar with the business culture, was a challenge.
”We have our day-to-day activities in Canada [and] it didn’t make sense,” he says.
Lightenco sees a lot of opportunity in Canada, particularly with the growing number of government incentives around green energy and infrastructure. Canadians are also buying more environmentally friendly products, such as solar panels, electric cars and LED lights, where Lightenco aims to capture some market share in the years to come.
Most people want to buy environmentally friendly products, but Mr. del Cojo says it’s the incentives that encourage the actual purchase.
”When you have incentives from the government saying ‘hey, we’re going to back this up,’ that gets people thinking for sure,” he says.
Being an entrepreneur, especially in an emerging industry, is hard work with its share of ups and downs and unexpected events like the pandemic but doing something good for the planet is what motivates Mr. del Cojo.
”If I don’t do it, somebody else will, and I feel I can do it better than a lot of people, so why wouldn’t I? It’s that thought that keeps me going,” he says.
Special to the Globe and Mail