SaLisa Berrien became the model she did not have.

Even though his family was enterprising in their own way, it took a high school teacher to introduce him to his field of engineering career. With courage and determination, she became a first generation student, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a mechanical engineering degree in four years – all the while raising a young girl and sometimes bringing her to class.

Berrien went on to obtain a Masters of Business Administration from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia and opened COI Energy, based in Tampa, a company now expanding in the United States.

Recognized by Jason A. Scott last year as one of the 30 black American founders to watch in 2021, Berrien was one of 50 companies to receive a $ 100,000 Black Founders Fund award from Google for startups. She participated in Google Startups for Women, which she completed last December, and has raised more than $ 2 million in funds.

“My goal is to do this [COI] a global company, ”says Berrien, who qualified for the reduced lunch program as a child. “From there, my next step would be to start investing in other companies.”

When she was growing up, Berrien’s family tried to nurture a work ethic in children

“We also plan to expand into Texas. Texas will come soon after California. Then after Texas, I think we’ll be able to open up the rest of the states, ”says COI Energy founder SaLisa Berrien from Tampa.

by taking them to pick peas in the fields. But Berrien resisted all she could; she was determined it wouldn’t be her.

Instead, the Bethlehem-PA native raised money by selling frozen Kool Aid or selling things with the girl’s club she started when she couldn’t join the Girl Scouts. Her godmother, the late Barbara Duffy, encouraged her by buying her a cash register.

“I come from a family of leaders. … They have always done something from nothing, ”she says.

Berrien saw some of the family become entrepreneurs, run a series of hair salons, and open a record store. She recognized that she could accomplish things too.

Surrounded by family and mentors

Although she was out of her comfort zone, she had plenty of help: from her teacher Barbara Irvine, who noted her aptitude for math and science, to Dr. Karl Lewis of the University of Pittsburgh, to her Aunt Susan and mentors a number of start-up programs.

Morgan Stanley’s Multicultural Innovation Lab introduced her to the startup ecosystem and fundraising in 2018. She also received support from the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, Embarc collective in Tampa and USF Tampa Bay Technology Incubator, who received the Outstanding Customer Specialty Award last May from the International Business Innovation Association for helping her.

Berrien bought a home in Tampa, her father’s hometown, in 2014, and opened her business in 2016. She has continued to develop COI, integrating and beta testing her cost-effective B2B platform. energy in 2018. beta test until 2019, before going online in 2020.

The company now serves clients throughout Florida and in 13 mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia. In addition to its offices at USF Connect in the university’s research park, it now operates its headquarters at 802 E. Whiting St. in Tampa. It also operates an office in New York and plans to roll out its services in San Francisco in December.

“We also plan to expand into Texas. Texas will come soon after California. Then after Texas I think we’ll be able to open up the rest of the states, ”she said.

It plans to open in Texas in the first quarter of 2022, with other states to follow in 2023.

AI and machine learning solutions

Berrien intervened to respond to a need: she estimates that companies waste about a third of their energy. His company’s ability to predict a company’s next utility bill can encourage him to look for new ways to reduce energy costs.

“We do this through artificial intelligence and machine learning,” she explains.

Although there is competition in the field, COI’s approach to the problem is different.

“We have new bread. The way we engage with customers is more efficient. It’s fast. It’s efficient and it’s profitable, ”she explains. “The technology has definitely made a difference for us. “

She believes in giving customers what they ask for.

“Focus on the customers. Even if you can’t fix their problem, they will always come back to you, ”she says.

With a workforce of 19, COI energy serves more than 350, including a high percentage in Florida. He plans to add five full-time positions in January, in addition to six to eight internship positions. Employees had the option of working in person or virtually; for those who work locally, Tampa is the preferred location for applicants because it is the largest market.

COI will hire product managers, customer success coordinators, full engineers and software development interns, she said.

Berrien gives back through his KW for Good program, which allocates money to communities that need help paying their electricity bills. She also awards scholarships to the University of Pittsburgh, where she serves on the Board of Trustees.

What does it recommend to other startups, especially those led by women and / or minorities?

“Follow your passion and believe in yourself,” she says. “It’s not for the faint of heart. If you believe in what you do, you can be successful. But you have to have that confidence in yourself, because a lot of people will say “no” to you.


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