Charging Up: A chat with Victoria Stulgis, SVP at Black Bear Energy

Plus, climatetech career moves at Plus Power, Rewiring America, Calstart, CBRE, Grid Forward, RMI, Verse and more.
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Canary Media’s Charging Up column chronicles gender diversity in the climatetech sector. Part one is a short Q&A with an industry role model about their career path. Part two features updates on career transitions. Please send feedback and tips to wesoff@​canarymedia.​com. Canary thanks BayWa r.e. for its support of the column.

Victoria Stulgis: An efficient leader working to scale solar energy

Victoria Stulgis is senior vice president of client operations at Black Bear Energy. This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.

How did you end up on this career path?

I studied history in college, but I wasn’t clear on what I was going to do afterward. My brother was three years ahead of me in school, and the 2008 financial crisis affected his plans to work in finance. But he kept receiving job offers from solar and wind companies. At the same time, climate change was gaining increased media attention, particularly around the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. Recognizing the growth potential in this sector, I was drawn to the renewable energy industry.

After graduation, I got an internship with a climate change NGO, Carbon War Room, which focused on business solutions to climate change. However, finding entry-level positions in energy and climate change was challenging, so I pursued a master’s degree in the U.K., focusing on climate change from an interdisciplinary perspective. Then I went on to work full-time with Carbon War Room, which was later acquired by the Rocky Mountain Institute. At RMI, I worked with Fortune 500 companies on virtual [power-purchase agreements] to achieve their aggressive renewable energy goals, and that is how I met Drew Torbin, the president and founder of Black Bear Energy. When Black Bear finished its Series A funding round, I seized the opportunity to join the team. At Black Bear, I work daily on financial models, contract negotiations and navigating internal approval processes to push solar deals through.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A former boss once said to me, The more decision-makers, the less likely a deal will get done.” This resonates in the solar industry, where we need significant action to deploy more solar quickly. It’s almost a daily lesson at work on how a solar project can falter.

For my team and myself, understanding how to ruthlessly prioritize which solar projects are likely to get built, and then steering the ship internally at these companies to try to get these projects approved, is critically important. Clients often propose multiple decision-makers for a single project, but this approach hampers progress. Companies with executive goals and one clear decision-maker are the ones installing solar at scale and succeeding.

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What is a barrier you faced, and how did you overcome it? 

From my first job at Carbon War Room, I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to interact with senior executives. Despite being a young female in male-dominated industries like shipping, which is even more gender-skewed than energy or real estate, I’ve strived to ensure my age and gender don’t impact my ability to communicate effectively with the mostly male executives I’ve worked with. Nevertheless, I recognize that there are times when for a message to be heard, it needs to come from my boss — even if it is exactly the same thing I have said already. So I have just accepted it, and if it is going to get more solar built more quickly, I have no problem pulling in my boss when necessary.

What do you think are some interesting, overlooked career opportunities in climatetech? 

I see massive growth in solar companies. They are grappling with tremendous volume and growing pains, so I think that working for a solar developer or a solar EPC [engineering, procurement and construction firm] is a great move. We’re eager for top talent to shift from fields like finance, law and software to climate change. Solar energy companies and real estate companies — our clients — often mention that they are hiring but can’t find suitable candidates. So despite being smaller, these companies, alongside corporations deploying solar, are where we’d love to see bright minds going.

What is your superpower? 

Efficiency. Which is funny because I work in energy, so I am all about energy efficiency, but what I mean is I always strategize to enhance my daily efficiency in how I work. I manage an incredible team of women, who in turn each manage a roster of clients, so ensuring they are empowered with everything they need to succeed is so important. And being efficient in the work we do allows us to achieve scale, which is crucial to tackling climate change.

Apart from efficiency, being a coxswain on a rowing team in high school and college taught me valuable life skills — it required understanding each rower in the boat and figuring out what motivates them to be their best. Much of my current role, both internally and with clients, echoes this. It’s about understanding individuals and their motivations, and aiding them in their quest for success.

Career moves

Polly Shaw has been promoted to chief external relations officer at Plus Power, a battery energy storage developer.

Jessie Lund has been promoted to deputy director of zero-emission truck market acceleration at Calstart, a nonprofit clean-transportation consortium.

Alison Mickey is now head of marketing at Verse, which develops software to help organizations buy and manage clean power. Mickey previously led the marketing team at Highland Electric Fleets. Dane McKay, formerly lead designer at Fluence, has joined Verse as head of design.

Ilyse Hogue, former NARAL Pro-Choice America president, has joined Rewiring America, a nonprofit working to educate people and communities about electrification, as senior advisor.

Stephanie Greene, previously with RMI, is now managing director of sustainability solutions at CBRE, which as of 2021 ranked as the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm.

Ije Ikoku Okeke is now managing director for catalytic climate capital and co-leader of the Global South program at think tank RMI. Okeke is the co-founder of Griot International, a private equity firm investing to support decarbonized and inclusive growth.

Jennifer Potter, director of regulatory innovation at Strategen Consulting, is now executive board member at Grid Forward, an industry alliance of utilities, technology providers and other stakeholders promoting and accelerating grid innovation.

Jocelyn Durkay has been promoted to associate director of regulatory policy at the Colorado Energy Office.

Katie Norris, previously with CPower, is now revenue manager at Dimension Renewable Energy, a developer of community solar projects. 

For the record

Of the cleantech companies that raised capital in 2022, 25.6% had at least one female founder.

In 2022, 25.6 percent of cleantech companies that raised capital had at least one female founder. That is up from just 14.6 percent nearly a decade ago in 2014, according to reporting by Forbes.

Check it out

Did you know Canary Media’s reporters are on television? They’ve appeared regularly on The Weather Channel’s climate-focused show Pattrn to talk about transmission policy, ammonia-powered ships, home electrification, heat pumps and more. You can watch these clips and other media appearances by our reporters here.

BayWa r.e. is the home for changemakers. With the same passion in heart and ambition in mind, we drive change for our planet — every single day. Our dynamic and proactive work environment empowers our people in their personal and professional growth. As one global team driven by a shared purpose, we continuously r.e.think energy to maximize the impact for our clients, as well as society and the environment. Visit our careers website to find out more.

Eric Wesoff is the editorial director at Canary Media.

Maria Virginia Olano is editorial producer at Canary Media.