Folly Beach has long been the epicenter of fun and sun for generations of College of Charleston students.
But for three recent graduates, the quirky little beach town is all about business.
By the time alumni Matthew Coda, Jake Cotreau and Taylor Denny walked across the Cistern stage to receive their diplomas in May 2014 they already knew how and where they planned to begin their careers.
This month the three young entrepreneurs launched Golden Sun Taxi, a fleet of three solar-powered, golf cart taxis that shuttle passengers along the sandy streets of Folly Beach. Aimed primarily at tourists, the business is believed to be the first of its kind in the United States.
RELATED: Learn more about Golden Sun Taxi.
Each of the eight-seat taxis is equipped with a 520-watt 12-foot-long solar panel affixed to its roof. The low-speed vehicles also have license plates, seat belts, mirrors, headlights and turn signals, which makes them street legal on roads with speeds limits of 35mph or less.
The seeds of the business were sown during fall 2013 in School of Business visiting instructor Peter Lucash’s entrepreneurship class in which students split into teams to develop ideas for potential businesses.
Denny, a sociology major, says he had always wanted to start a golf cart taxi service. “We all kind of pitched our ideas. I threw mine out there and they liked it and it went from there. We got an A on the project.”
The team for the class project included five members. But Denny, Cotreau and Coda thought they might be on to something bigger and began meeting outside of class to explore the idea further.
“We sat down and said we really want to do something and make some money off of it, really start a company, not just a class project,” recalls Coda, a business administration major.
Their original idea was to establish a golf cart taxi service in downtown Charleston. But after the team learned that the city prohibits such businesses, they began looking at other nearby locations. They eventually settled on Folly Beach because of its large number of tourists and its network of low-speed, locally owned roads.
The use of solar power to fuel the taxis also was not part of the original plan. When the College’s Office of Sustainability suggested that the company explore alternative energy sources, however, the partners knew they had found their niche.
The partners pooled their savings and tapped family and friends for the remainder of their start-up capital.
Cotreau, a business administration major, says the career-focused education the partners received through their business courses helped prepare them for the time-consuming and sometimes frustrating process of getting the business off the ground.
Throughout their senior year, the partners worked feverishly to secure the necessary licenses and approvals, conduct market research, and identify a manufacturer that could build and deliver their unique sun-powered golf carts. Golf cart maker Star EV of Simpsonville, S.C., came through.
Along the way, the graduates received valuable guidance and advice from other School of Business faculty and alumni, including luxury car dealer and adjunct business instructor Tommy Baker, business law adjunct professor Todd Ericsson, and business school alumnus Stewart Vernon ’02.
Golden Sun’s current base of operations is located in a gravel parking lot just off the beach’s main strip. But the partners hope to spend most of their time out on the roads hauling beachgoers to the Washout and transporting wedding parties back and forth to their hotels and beach rentals.
As for the company’s hierarchy, there isn’t one. For now, each partner has an equal stake and standing. There’s no CEO or president, and they all drive the taxis. They have all taken up residence on Folly Beach so they can get at an early start each morning.
The company began transporting passengers during the first week of June. Word is spreading through social media and among their beach business partners. So far, the reception from locals and visitors has been positive. And while the novelty of the solar-powered taxis has helped attract the first wave of customers, the company says the solar angle is no gimmick.
“We want to show that it is a viable part of our business model,” Cotreau says. “It actually helps the carts go further and last longer, and that helps us service more people.”
They plan to build the business day by day, but they already are thinking about opportunities to expand into other cities and, some day, even franchising their concept.
For this ambitious trio, the sky – err, the sun – is the limit.
Golden Sun Taxi can be reached at 843.597.9819 or on Facebook.