Meet the Entrepreneur of 2010 Award Winners

Emerging Entrepreneur of 2010: Derek Zobrist

Derek Zobrist of Enovative
Derek Zobrist of Enovative Kontrol Systems
Photography by David Johnson
Most inspiring stories: Rags to riches (Richard Branson, Paul Mitchell). "I have respect for people who started a company from nothing as opposed to having a good start out of the gate."

Favorite business bar: Copa d'Oro in Santa Monica, Calif., a speakeasy atmosphere with unique cocktails.

Required reading: Business articles on Google Reader, Entrepreneur and Inc. websites.

Most essential to success: Resourcefulness.

For play: I go to happy hour every Friday. But I really do enjoy thinking about and trying to grow this company, so I spend most of my time tinkering with things--that's fun for me, like playing a game and leveling up.

Career ladder? Derek Zobrist scoffs at such an outdated notion. As president and founder of Venice, Calif.-based Enovative Kontrol Systems, he's only held one other job title: intern.

In 2006, Zobrist, a college junior majoring in business administration at Pepperdine University, was working at a real estate development company that held the rights to a new demand-controlled water pump system. "I just saw it and thought it was cool, so I wrote up a business plan … and raised about $200,000 to start a company around it," he says.

After an initial investment of less than $2,000, which includes installation, a building owner can save 30 percent in water-heating costs, he says. Some recoup their purchase price in as little as four months. "People even ignore us because they think it's too good to be true."

Zobrist embarked on a slow and steady route to success--donating units to build up case studies and data points, and improving the product engineering--nearly going bankrupt in the process. "There was this one point I had two grand left in the corporate bank account, and I slept on a friend's floor for four months waiting for the results of a pilot program with Archstone [Apartments], our first big name," he recalls. "I thought I wasn't going to make it."

But when the program wrapped, success quickly followed. Now, Enovative has pilot programs with several of the largest multifamily building owners in the country (that's thousands of buildings), and support from the Southern California Gas Co. and California Energy Commission.

"We [made] $1 million this year, and my first salesperson just got on the payroll in October," Zobrist says. "Next year could be pretty explosive."

Jennifer Wang is a staff writer at Entrepreneur magazine in Southern California.

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This article was originally published in the January 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Envelope Please... The Entrepreneur of 2010 Awards.

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