Solar king Karl Brown takes the crown at Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Awards

Solar king Karl Brown takes the crown at Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Awards

InStyle Solar founder Karl Brown finally has his day in the sun after winning the Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Award on Friday night, beating out one of the most tightly contested groups the event has ever seen.

The event was the largest yet for the river city with Brisbane's leading young businesspeople converging on Rydges at South Bank. 

Since founding InStyle Solar with just $2,500 of capital behind him in 2012, Brown has gone on to build a formidable force in the world of solar panel retail and installation.

A large chunk of his competitors used to work for him, and even though the sector is becoming more crowded Brown believes there is still plenty of room for growth.

The company went national in 2019 thanks to an Australian partnership with big-box US retailer Costco, while this year Brown also took the plunge into direct sourcing and opened up a 1,200sqm warehouse in Brendale to stock product.

"When you're the largest solar company in Queensland, you need to know that your stock's there - that was the catalyst for it to be honest," he says.

"Sydney has grown a fair bit for us so the Costco deal is obviously working," he says.

"We're doing a little bit more regionally than we would have a year ago as well, which is only going to get bigger for us as we spread out our network."

Brown's value proposition to customers is really quite straightforward - cut your electricity bill by installing panels, and using systematic financial analysis InStyle can calculate what the saving will be. 

He adds that while many solar companies seek to diversify into servicing commercial properties, InStyle's core focus will remain on residential for the foreseeable future.

"A lot of these companies will install a 100kW or a 200kW system, it'll take them a week, and at the end of the week they run around fist pumping and are really happy," he says.

"We install 200kW a day so our volumes end up being a lot higher, and we're able to hold margin too."

As solar panels are imported the lower value of the Australian dollar may put pressure on the business at some point. However, Brown notes prices for silicon, a key component used in the product, have dropped as well.

The entrepreneur also won the Retail & Services and Startup awards, the latter for Rokkit Performance Marketing along with co-founders Jonah Hicks and Tehbyn Nova.

Rokkit has seen phenomenal growth as a marketing company that offers lead generation, marketing automation and sales consultancy.

Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Awards founder Camilla Jansen says Brown symbolises everything you could look for in an entrepreneur.

"Karl is a man with vision and I personally find him to be a great inspiration. He has built not just one but two very successful companies, he has an excellent reputation in the business community, and he has a great impact on the community," she says. 

"He is an Impressive competitor and innovator in a crowded marketplace with stunning top line and bottom line growth, as well as being a major employer in our community," adds Glen Richards, a long-time supporter of the Young Entrepreneur Awards and a judge of the awards itself.

Another highly coveted recognition at the Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Awards is the Trailblazer award, which this year went to Dr Sean Parsons, founder and managing director of health technology company Ellume.

After witnessing firsthand the health system's capacity constraints during the swine flu outbreak in 2010, Parsons was emboldened to develop portable products that could make it easier to diagnose infectious disease.

Through the development of diagnostic technology and software, Parsons' Ellume is on track to achieving that vision with tests for tuberculosis and the flu that only take up to 10 minutes. The tech has been sufficiently impressive to draw partnerships with major multinationals including the UK's GlaxoSmithKline and Germany's Qiagen. 

Recently, the entrepreneur has been involved in a roadshow to raise funds for a potential IPO and plans for a commercial release in the US next week.

"We as a company look beyond the ASX to the international markets where we think there's been some excellent companies that have been able to commercialise their products - some of those have been private, some have been public," Parsons told Business News Australia in May.

"They're not necessarily examples that would be well known to the average investor here in Australia, but they've given us confidence."

Jansen says what Parsons is creating is a truly positive disruption not just for the health sector, but it has the potential to be important for people all over the world.

"It is very impressive for him to have secured partnerships with major European multinationals who believe in the possibility that Ellume's technology presents, and I look forward to seeing how the business scales up, whether it be through an IPO or otherwise," she says.

"Finally, I'd just like to emphasise what an incredible cohort of nominees we've had for the awards in 2019, and everyone who made it as a finalist should be immensely proud of what they've achieved.

"The judging panel had very difficult decisions to make. So for those finalists who missed out on awards, as well as those who nominated but didn't make it as finalists, we absolutely encourage you to have a crack again in 2020."

All winners at the 2019 Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Awards

  • Young Entrepreneur of the Year - Karl Brown (InStyle Solar, Rokkit Performance Marketing)
  • Trailblazer of the Year - Dr Sean Parsons (Ellume)
  • Digital Disruptor - Ben Bradshaw (Disrupt Digital, Sponsored Linx, Get More Traffic)
  • Fashion Design - Alex & Doug Hainstock (DVNT)
  • Finance - Daniel Wessels (Jacaranda Finance, Jacaranda Loans)
  • Health & Fitness - Dr Sean Parsons (Ellume)
  • Hospitality & Tourism - Tim Johnson (Corbett & Claude, Comuna Cantina)
  • Legal - Sacha Kirk & Warwick Walsh (Lawcadia)
  • Manufacturing, Wholesale & Distribution - Mathew Stillone (Integrity Food Co, Protein Supplies Australia, Botanika Blends, Stillone Investment Group)
  • Marketing & PR - Nic Blair (Search Factory, Brus Media)
  • Professional Services - Andrew Barnes, Chris Eigeland, Chris Hood & Vu Tran (GO1)
  • Property & Construction - Brett Boulton (Bold Group of Companies)
  • Retail & Services - Karl Brown (InStyle Solar)
  • Social Entrepreneur - John Corry (50-50 Foundation)
  • Specialist Services - Peter Matthews (Solar Service Guys)
  • Startup - Karl Brown, Jonah Hicks & Tehbyn Nova (Rokkit Performance Marketing)
  • Technology - Braden Voigt (Lynkz)
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