Axial's Growth 100 : Pankaj Desai

Pankaj Desai

CEO, Sonali Solar

An Alternative Approach

As a second generation family-owned business, Sonali Solar is a cross-continental manufacturer of photovoltaic modules (solar panels) serving customers across the U.S., Asia-Pacific, and European markets.

Pankaj Desai, CEO of Sonali, helped get the business off the ground in the peak of the financial crisis. While they intended to start the business in the U.S., conditions required they reconsider their launch strategy. Taking the business overseas, they set up their first facility in India. Today there are 150 employees in that plant. The panels they produce are used in power plants, on rooftops, as well for additional commercial and battery charging applications.

“Our product had been very well accepted,” says Pankaj of their 2012 expansion into the U.S. market. Headquartered in Northern New Jersey, the company had always planned to re-enter the U.S. market after proving the concept had legs and could attract a global customer base. Today, they also have a facility in Michigan with about 20 employees and growing.

Steep Competition

“Our leading edge is the quality and service that has helped us to grow and sustain in the market,” says Pankaj discussing their competitive advantage in an increasingly crowded market.

“There are always challenges when you are in the international market,” Pankaj says. The major challenge for Sonali seems obvious. Starting the company in 2007 and 2008 Pankaj faced a difficult financing environment. “It became quite easier for us to start in 2012 in the U.S.”

With the market vastly growing since then, there has been even more change. The government ruling of the ITC extension for the next four years in the U.S. has opened up many opportunities for larger solar projects with a 4GW prediction for 2016. The government in India is also adding to the chain of supply and demand with their project predictions of a 4GW installation for 2016 as well. “As of today this is the perfect time and opportunity for us and where we need to be as a growing solar company in this industry,” says Pankaj.

Still, Pankaj is on the hunt for a growth partner that can take them to the next level. “We see a huge potential for the market growth in the US and India.” He wants to beat out his competition that outsources from other countries such as China and Taiwan by offering lower competitive prices while still offering a well-manufactured Grade A quality product.

“The market is very challenging. The major challenge in the U.S. is branding,” Pankaj says. “The more branded you are the better possibility you have of getting your fair share.”

Sonali is a $100 million company today but wants to get to $500 million. To do that, Pankaj is looking for financing partners who “believe in solar. Because we have the capacity to grow and expand, we are definitely looking for a growth partner.”