Off the Cuff: Cole Hershkowitz OC ’11

Madeline Stocker, News Editor

Cole Hershkowitz, OC ’11, was recently awarded $15,000 by the Oberlin LaunchU Pitch Competition; a grant to fund his future entrepreneurial ventures. A CalTech graduate and engineering enthusiast, Hershkowitz co-founded a company called Chai Energy, an energy conservation company which operates out of Southern California.

What is Chai Energy?

 Chai Energy shows homeowners exactly where they’re wasting money on their utility bill and what’s going on in their home through a mobile application. So, if you imagine: You’re at home, and if you’re forgetful like I am, you leave the stove on or the refrigerator door open. We’ll send you a message on your way out the door, or maybe after an hour, that your stove is on, or that your fridge door has been open for over an hour. And we do that by analyzing [and] number-crunching data that comes out of the utility department, which then allows us to figure out what specific appliances are on or off, so that we can deliver the message.

 

So where does the ‘‘Chai’’ in Chai Energy come from?

We came up with a list of 100 names and crossed off 99 until we were left with Chai.

 

Where did this idea come from?

Well, both myself and my co-founder worked on the CalTech solar decathlon project — in which you build a solar powered home — and working on the project we kind of found that there’s no real affordable solution to understand what’s going on in your home or understand where you’re spending energy on your utility bill. So it kind of [came from] that.

 

How would you say your time at Oberlin helped shape what you’re doing now?

When I was at Oberlin, they had this Creativity and Leadership program and a class that was a part of that. They had Entrepreneurship Scholars, which was [like] Business Scholars but not, and I took a Creativity and Leadership class, [where I got to experience] what an entrepreneur was, and I was like, ‘’Oh wow, I’ve never done that before and I like it.’’ That kind of gave me the direction and knowledge I needed to pursue that in a deeper way when I went to CalTech. So I went to CalTech and I became president of the CalTech Entrepreneurship Club, made a lot of connections, read as much as I could and took a bunch of classes. Oberlin gave me the confidence in a way; it kind of said to me, ‘This was something that you could be interested in, and even though it’s not a department at any school in the world, it’s something that exists and now you have an opportunity to learn more about it.’’ So I took that and I ran with it, learned as much as I could and started the company.

 

Are you currently working on any other projects, or is Chai Energy your main focus?

I’ve tried working on multiple things at a time in the past, and it does not work well creativity- and focus-wise. I think you really need to be focused on one thing at a time in order to do something well enough.

 

Could you talk a little bit about the competition process?

 So I showed up last Wednesday, and I honestly didn’t really know what was in store for the weekend. The thing that I liked most about it was that it brought together a lot of these people in and around the Oberlin community that were involved in entrepreneurship that a) I didn’t know existed, and b) even if I did know they existed, there was no other opportunity to get them all in one place. So it was really a great opportunity to reconnect with people at Oberlin who had started companies, people at Oberlin who were focused on starting companies. I really [appreciated that] it brought the community together. And that’s pretty much what it was for me during the weekend — a sense of community, talking to people and learning about the cool projects that people are working on.

 

Is there anything else that you’d like to mention about your project?

Yeah! We’ll be launching later this year. It’ll be available in Southern California, and we really look forward to the market reception and how people enjoy it, what people think about it and what people are interested in. [In regards to Oberlin students who are interested in entrepreneurship,] I’d encourage [you] to reach out to me at [email protected] I’d be more than happy to answer questions.