With prize-winning plan and a PR push, Envirohaven seeks a sale | nnbw.com

With prize-winning plan and a PR push, Envirohaven seeks a sale

John Seelmeyer

Reno’s Envirohaven Corp. so far has been a feel-good story collegiate business plan brings about the creation of a real-life company but the company now faces a real-life challenge:

Generating a sale.

Not a bunch of sales, but a single sale to show the world how its pre-packaged, self-sufficient homes can meet the need for housing in remote areas ranging from mining camps to tribal reservations.

It’s a challenge for a little company that’s progressed so far on a share of the $35,000 in prizes that Envirohaven won this spring in the annual Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup, a collegiate business plan competition.

Vicki Bischoff, one of the members of the winning team of students at the University of Nevada, Reno, now serves as the chief executive officer of Envirohaven. Clint Borchard, a UNR senior who also was part of the team, spearheads the company’s marketing.

The company sank most of the business-plan prize earnings into corporate organization and the construction of a structural frame that demonstrates the size and layout of the 1,400-square-foot housing unit that it’s dubbed “The Haven.”

Now Bischoff and Borchard are spending lots of energy and not very much cash in their efforts to build awareness for the company especially in that first customer who is out there somewhere.

The company hosted a sold-out open house sponsored by Nevada’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology.

It’s generating all the free media coverage it can as television and print reporters make their way to its out-of-the-way (and inexpensive) location on Valley Road in north Reno.

Bischoff is talking with federal officials involved in rural housing programs, particularly those on tribal lands, about a test of The Haven.

Mining companies whose growth in northern Nevada sometimes has limited by lack of housing are another target.

Wherever that first sale comes from individual consumer or giant mining company Borchard and Bischoff have little doubt about their vision for Envirohaven.

“This is going to change the way that the world thinks about sustainable housing,” Bischoff says.

The home it’s sort-of dome-shaped, although Bischoff hates to describe it that way is designed for maximum energy efficiency.

That’s important because all of its energy needs will come from a solar thermal system The Haven uses technology developed by Sparks-based Sunvelope and solar photovoltaic cells.

Components of the housing units will be built in the Reno factory and assembled on-site. Environhaven offers site-specific engineered plans for buyers, and guarantees that they’ll meet the approval of local building officials.

Bischoff and her husband, Greg, have operated Suncrest Builders Inc. in Reno since 1992, and Greg Bischoff spent much of this summer painstakingly calculating the angled cuts that are necessary to build the frame of The Haven.

But now that the calculations and the structural frame are completed, Vicki Bischoff says the company can gear up production quickly once it has a signed contract that it can use as collateral for bank financing.

While prices will depend greatly on the specific site on which a home is built, she says the company envisions prices in the $100,000 to $150,000 range.

The company is getting substantial advice from the retired business executives who serve as counselors with the nonprofit group SCORE.

The Nevada Small Business Development Center at the University of Nevada, Reno, also is providing valuable counsel, says Bischoff.

While she is an experienced business owner, Bischoff says her work the student business-plan team widened her horizons.

Especially important, she says, was the advice of Borchard that Envirohaven could use the expertise of nonprofit resources at UNR and elsewhere in the community.

“Clint taught me that business is a team sport,” she says.