Key to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's fundraising success was involving the local community. To celebrate the groundbreaking of their Solar Decathlon house, the team invited all of their sponsors to the event. | Photo courtesy of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

To fund their Solar Decathlon house, Team Ontario took an “all hands on deck” approach rather than leave the daunting task of fundraising to a few team members. | Photo courtesy of the Energy Department.

Ever wonder what it takes to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon? Over the next couple of weeks, we’re exploring how the Solar Decathlon 2013 teams’ energy-efficient, solar-powered houses went from idea to reality, and documenting some of the steps along the way in this two-year competition. Follow the series by visiting and see if you have what it takes to be a solar decathlete.

For the teams competing in the Solar Decathlon, every cent counts. From researching design options and building supplies to transporting the houses and communications materials, the costs for developing a competition house can add up quickly. Before the teams can even start on the building process, they must first master the art of fundraising.

To get them started, the Energy Department gives each team a $100,000 grant to meet competition deliverables -- like developing a project manual, creating a health and safety plan, and producing digital renderings of their houses. Beyond that, the teams are responsible for fundraising the additional money needed to compete, which includes the cost of transporting the team and their houses to the competition site. While the teams’ fundraising strategies are as different as their houses, one thing seems to be the same -- involving students in the fundraising process is integral to the teams’ success.

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte Goes Local

The University of North Carolina at Charlotte took a local approach with their UrbanEden house, developing a solar-powered house for Charlotte’s rapidly growing urban center, and they applied the same locally oriented strategy to fundraising. Working with the university, North Carolina created a core communications team of students and an external steering committee made up of local leaders to help the team raise the funds for their house. They targeted both multinational companies located in the metropolitan area and smaller groups in their local community -- including university staff and faculty. The result: The team raised more than $1 million in the first six months of the competition -- a success that the team credits to creating a partnership with donors instead of asking for a handout. 

Teamwork Leads to Team Ontario’s Success

For Team Ontario -- a collaboration between Queen's University, Carleton University and Algonquin College -- teamwork was key during every step of the competition. To fund ECHO, a house dedicated to the needs of the next generation of homeowners, the team took an “all hands on deck” approach rather than leave the daunting task of fundraising to a few team members. With more than 100 students to involve in the process, the team split into subteams that allowed them to play to their strengths. A business team focused on cash sponsorships while technical teams worked to obtain in-kind sponsorship for ECHO’s materials and systems. As of August, Team Ontario had raised $850,000 -- no small feat for students without prior fundraising experience.

Be sure to check back tomorrow on for more on how teams prepare for the Solar Decathlon.

Rebecca Matulka
Served as a digital communications specialist for the Energy Department.Served as a digital communications specialist for the Energy Department.
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