The Solyndra story is like a zombie in a low budget horror movie: it shuffles along, it falls over, it gets back up and it just keeps walking towards you . . . drooling, bloody and just plain gross. Today, September 6, marks the one-year anniversary of the day that solar startup Solyndra filed for bankruptcy. Looking back over the year, I can safely say that I did not expect Solyndra’s fall would morph into what it’s become today: a political catch phrase and campaign election tool that is aggressively being used an entire year later.
Every time I hear the company evoked in a high profile speech (like Republican VP nomination Paul Ryan!), for a split second, I get momentarily excited that more mainstream folks are paying attention to the cleantech industry. But then I quickly remember that Solyndra isn’t being seen as just a mistake and money-loser from cleantech entrepreneurs and investors. It’s actually morphed into something that doesn’t have anything to do with solar power, entrepreneurialism, innovation, venture capital, and cleantech.
That fateful day when Solyndra declared bankruptcy was actually a bit of an afterthought in the grand scheme of the story. The news that Solyndra had announced it planned to file for bankruptcy and had already laid off its 1,100 workers (first reported by NBC) actually happened the week earlier. An entire week can be an eternity in news cycles.
But not for Solyndra. In a bizarre twist of timing and politics, Solyndra’s news cycle has endured — off an on for an entire year — and has taken on a life of its own — as a representation of wasteful spending and conflict of interest from the Obama administration. (Despite that any conflict of interest of interest has been proven).
Republican Vice President nomination Paul Ryan singled out Solyndra in his speech at the Republican National Convention this week. The federal stimulus “went to companies like Solyndra, with their gold-plated connections, subsidized jobs and make-believe markets,” said Ryan. Republican Presidential nomination Mitt Romney visited Solyndra’s abandoned factory space in Fremont, Calif. in May (calling it the Taj Mahal of corporate headquarters).
So exactly how did we get here? Here’s the spicy recipe that led to a year that produced the shuffling and bloody Solyndra zombie:
- Start with a bowl of overinflated hype about a startup’s technology.
- Make sure to place a dark towel over the bowl for a few years, so speculation about the secret technology can grow.
- Add in investor enthusiasm — and competition among investors — so the company becomes a magnet for investment and is able to raise a billion dollars in private money.
- Grab a piece of the federal stimulus-spurred loan guarantee program. Make sure it’s the most high-profile part, and the first loan out of the gate. That will make it ripe for soaring expectations and if it suffers then its fall will be greater.
- When applying the federal loan insist on making as much noise about it as possible. Gather as many sitting officials, vice presidents, secretaries, mayors, governors, celebrities and executives together in one place for this.
- Now stir in one part recession, one part poor management and over spending, and one part Chinese subsidies for solar panels.
- The mixture can now be put aside, covered, and it’ll slowly rise.
- Months later when you come back and uncover it, you can expect to see lost jobs, sadness, anger and embarrassment. You’ll also hear a loud humming noise as the media starts rehashing it over and over (guilty).
- The mixture should last quite awhile. Take it and pour it into the Republican-led House Energy & Commerce Committee. It’ll keep that thing churning for months.
- Finally, use the remaining portion and slather it on top of the Presidential election campaigns.
- Think you’re finally done? Well, that’s the fun part. The applications are endless.