Joyce Ferris is a successful entrepreneur running an industry leading company while connecting small businesses to resources to help them grow. As the President of Blue Hill Partners, Joyce stays busy but we were lucky enough to have her spend time with us for a quick interview as our client feature this month.
Describe Blue Hill to our readers and your role.
JF: We are an investment and advisory firm focused in the Clean Energy industry. Blue Hill is a team of three people but total employees of our portfolio companies are over 130 people. We have existing investments in a number of companies and projects and consulting work with multiple firms.
How did you get your start in this industry?
JF: I was lucky to enter the Clean Energy industry very early. I moved to Philly to attend graduate school at Penn and received a Master’s in Energy, Management and Policy. After graduating I joined a three person team and we built one of the early leaders in the Clean Energy industry, Reading Energy Company. In my 25+ year career I have been both a company builder and investor in Clean Energy.
How did you decide Chestnut Hill would be the best location for the business?
JF: I moved to Chestnut Hill while still in graduate school and never left. I moved my business office here in 1989. It’s a great place to operate a business and I have found that the combination of a wonderful place to live, a vibrant retail and restaurant center plus access to transportation makes it a great place to attract and retain employees.
How do you distinguish Blue Hill from the other companies in your industry?
JF: We have tremendous industry expertise and relationships in Clean Energy. That coupled with very solid financial experience and expertise is powerful and unique.
Describe what it was like to participate in a discussion with President Obama and former President Bill Clinton on energy efficiency for the Better Buildings Challenge.
JF: I’ve been lucky to have been invited to the White House a number of times. My favorite visit was the Better Buildings Challenge and the opportunity to meet and President Obama and President Clinton. Both of them were quite well versed and articulate about the opportunity to invest in energy efficiency in the built environment which is our sweet spot.
Do you think enough people are concerned with energy efficiency? If not, what more can be done to compel others to invest in this issue?
JF: Energy efficiency is an excellent way to reduce operating costs on a long term basis. It is not as visible as solar panels or windmills but the economics are usually more favorable. I believe a key to more widespread adoption on energy efficiency is making it easier for the customer. I’m a big believer that now is the time to focus on service models and deployment of technology, rather than technology. There has been a tremendous amount of capital invested in the growth of technologies without a real focus on the business model for getting those technologies to customers. It is still too hard for building owners to make their buildings energy efficient and green. Companies that make it easy to reduce their energy costs and ongoing risks have a tremendous opportunity.
What prompted you to contact PIDC?
JF: I was approached by John Conley from PIDC when he was tasked with first learning about how PIDC can get involved in funding green projects. At that time the only fit was real estate lending. I had always wanted to buy our office building and implement all the great energy and sustainability technologies I was seeing in the market.
What has the assistance from PIDC allowed you to accomplish with your business?
JF: PIDC was wonderful to work with in purchasing our office building. Owning the building has allowed us to realize a dream of creating a community of entrepreneurs sharing office space and building companies involved in Clean Energy and the environment.
Describe your current tenants and the atmosphere you provide in the office?
JF: We are a community of innovative, growing businesses in the heart of Chestnut Hill. We have traditional tenants, as well as tenants that utilize our Shared Services Suites. We really work on maintaining a sense of community among our tenants. We offer social opportunities, such as Cinco de Mayo party, Oktoberfest BBQ and lunch and learns to allow tenants to meet each other and find places where business or personal opportunities can intersect. As a result, many of our tenants use the dentist, allergist and acupuncturist and we’ve had companies team up on project proposals.
Our Shared Services tenants enjoy having “co-workers” around to talk to, even if they are a one man shop. Sharing internet, printers, conference rooms, and common space allows Shared Services tenants to just bring their laptop and get to work without worrying about many of the “back office” things that can get in the way of productivity.
Our traditional tenants are:
- Metropolitan Acoustics (metro-acoustics.com)- who utilize their knowledge of room acoustics, noise control, acoustical isolation, and audio systems to ensure the efficient distribution of desirable sound as well as the suppression of undesirable sound in and around all types of buildings.
- Chestnut Hill Allergy & Asthma Assoc. LLC (Philadelphia-allergy.com) Dr. Segal is an allergist/immunologist who sees both adult and pediatric patients. He is board certified by both the American Board of Allergy and Immunology and the American Board of Internal Medicine.
- Daniel M. Mele, DMD (phillypadentist.com) Dr. Mele and his dedicated team of trained professional offer patients all aspects of dental care from routine cleaning to extractions to implants.
- Empirical Point Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (Philadelphia-acupuncture.com) Empirical Point educates, guides and empowers personal health through the offering of expert acupuncture and oriental /Chinese medicine knowledge and herbal treatments.
Our Shared Services tenants are:
- Clean Markets LLC (cleanmarketswork.com)- a energy efficiency marketing company. They are energy efficiency experts, skilled innovators, experienced marketers, and insightful business partners. Founded by former energy executives, their team brings the perspective of decades of proven success, hands-on business and marketing expertise, and a commitment to creating a marketing impact.
- CICADA Architecture/Planning Inc. (cicadaarchitecture.com) was formed in 1995 to offer institutional, educational, arts, and community development clients’ cost-effective projects with sustainability in mind, conscientious service, and sophisticated design.
- EDF Renewable Energy (edf-re.com) is dedicated to creating the most efficient, renewable energy projects possible for their own portfolio and for third parties. Their Northeast sales office is located in our building.
- Harborstone Law Group (bankruptcylawyerpa.com) – are experienced bankruptcy attorneys who help Penna. consumers eliminate debt and resolve serious financial problems through bankruptcy and non-bankruptcy solutions.
- Performance Systems Development (psdconsulting.com) – are passionately committed to achieving the peak performance of buildings by translating building science into actionable information for energy efficiency program success. PSD has a main office in Ithaca NY, but much of their senior management is located in their Philadelphia office.
- Sargent Healthcare Management Advisors- works with healthcare providers offering strategic planning, feasibility assessment, complex project management, and state/federal funding application assistance for new initiatives under the Affordable Care Act.
- CrownGlobal Insurance Group (crownglobalinsurance.com) empowers high net worth individuals, institutions and investment fund managers with products and services to enhance their investments. They partner with clients to address complex problems using innovative insurance strategies. They are an international company with offices all over the world, but both the CEO and General Counsel are from Chestnut Hill so we provide a Philadelphia office for them.
You mentioned you’ve even rented your own office out to tenants. Why is it important for you to be this flexible and accessible to your tenants?
JF: We work hard to offer a space that works for growing businesses. By being flexible and accessible, our tenants have the freedom to grow their business without needing to worry about having the space to handle their growth. We have been able to work with our tenants to handle each one’s growth needs for the most part. By moving our own offices from one suite to another and even renting my personal office, we were able to provide our tenants with the space requirements that worked for their growing businesses without the companies needing to worry about finding new space or incurring the costs and lost productivity that moving can cause. I am actually sharing an office with one of our tenants who has needed to scale back her business for family reasons, so the office share was perfect for her as well.
Do you currently have space available for new tenants?
JF: One of our long time tenants will be leaving in the fall. They have become so successful that even with being flexible we couldn’t provide the space they needed. I have already have part one of their offices rented, but we do have a 275 sf private office available. If we can’t find the right tenant, we may sub-divide it into 2 smaller private offices.
What’s next for Blue Hill?
JF: We are always working on improving our shared services offering for tenants. We are also focused on our consulting and advisory work with companies and investors in Clean Energy. Last year Emily Bockian Landsburg joined our family of companies to build Blue Hill Services, which provides project development, special projects, business development, and strategic consulting services. And of course we are always working on improving our shared services offering for tenants.
For more information on how PIDC can assist your business with its financing or real estate needs visit PIDCphila.com.