He's a trailblazer for minority mechanical contractors

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Brown, founder of Environmental Construction Services, credits his success in part to a Goldman Sachs training program hosted at Community College of Philadelphia.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Michael Brown, founder of Environmental Construction Services, credits his success in part to a Goldman Sachs training program hosted at Community College of Philadelphia.
Posted: November 08, 2013

M ICHAEL A. BROWN, 38, of Blackwood, Camden County, is the founder and president of Environmental Construction Services, an HVAC company in Somerton that does energy-retrofit projects. Brown was one of 23 small-business owners who recently completed the Goldman Sachs "10,000 Small Businesses" training program at Community College of Philadelphia. Right now, he's with Mayor Nutter and other business leaders on a trade mission to London and Tel Aviv.

Q: What did you learn during the Goldman Sachs program?

A: It helps you focus on opportunities and learn about yourself, employees and business. I've entered the federal [contracting] space in energy management and mechanical contracting as a prime [contractor]. I never thought I could get a $750,000 line of credit or a $1 million loan from a bank. We're now working on a $3 million project for the [Department of Veterans Affairs].

Q: How'd you come up with the idea for ECSI?

A: I was getting an MBA at St. Joseph's in 2010, and I put together a business plan. Then I quit my job and started ECSI. I got my first client in July 2010.

Q: How did you finance it?

A: I took the plan to a friend and he put the seed money - a $100,000 loan - in. I put up $5,100 cash and he put up $4,900.

Q: What does the business do?

A: We're energy retrofitters and mechanical contractors. We figure out how to create savings from energy efficiency by reducing demand during peak hours.

Q: What separates you from other mechanical contractors?

A: There are larger companies like Elliott-Lewis, and it's difficult to compete with them on big projects. We're smaller, more nimble and focus on 50,000- to 150,000-square-foot buildings.

Q: Who are some clients?

A: WES Health System, Philadelphia Business and Technology Center, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Q: What's the biggest challenge you've faced growing the biz?

A: There are very few stable minority mechanical contractors here. We're the only one in Philadelphia with union workers, and that's sad. The biggest challenge is convincing people we have the wherewithal to do the job.

Q: How much do services cost?

A: It could be $100,000 to $2 million. Our typical contract on energy retrofit is $80,000 to $1.7 million. But the sweet spot is $150,000 to $250,000 for retrofitting restaurants, $500,000 to $700,000 for multifamily housing for design-build projects.

Q: How big a business is this?

A: We do about $5 million in annual revenue.

Q: How many employees?

A: Four to five salaried employees and 12 out in the field. So, 15 to 17 at any given time.

Q: Where do you see the company in five years?

A: Our goal is to become a $30 million company.


On Twitter: @MHinkelman

Online: ph.ly/YourBusiness

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