Steve Ellis grew up in Boston as the son of a prominent developer. He loved going to visit his dad on job sites and seeing how his father changed an old piano factory into the first condominiums in the area. It is no wonder that Ellis grew up with a fascination with wanting to improve upon things that had potential to be something more.
In 2006, Ellis began working on a house he owned and asked for help from Grant Castilow, now his business partner at My Green Buildings, LLC. As the two worked together on building Ellis’ house, they tried to make it as high-performing and green as they knew how. Once the house was finished, it became the first green home certified under the Green Coalition in Florida and the second-highest scoring home in the state. The two realized that they had hit on an emerging trend.
Since then, My Green Buildings, LLC has added eight more full-time employees and moved into its second office space. The entire staff incorporates green into everything they do from recycling at the office, using more efficient lighting, painting the walls with zero VOC paint and buying all their furniture used and creating desks and cabinets out of items from a building that was never completed. Their eco-friendly office only cost the company $2,000 to create.
When the team is out on a job site, they make sure to achieve certain LEED levels and build their buildings in efficient ways that produce the least amount of waste possible.
“We practice what we preach,” says Ellis.
The company also participates in philanthropic work, including the Warren Back Pack Program, as well as sponsoring foundations such as the Sarasota Conservation Foundation and the Humane Society. The entire staff spends hundreds of hours each year working with different causes and also educating others about living green. The company also donated a green roof garden exhibit to the Marie Selby Gardens that is seen by more than 130,000 visitors each year.
“We have almost overdone it in terms of giving,” says Ellis. “We have tried to be generous and give back. We struggle like any business to keep our payroll funded, but if we are growing in an economy like this, the more you give the more you get.”
Ellis has been inducted into the Economical Development Corporation of Sarasota Hall of Fame as Entrepreneur of the Year, and he and his company have received many other various green awards and philanthropic honors.
But Ellis is not ready to settle for what he has already accomplished.
“We are poised for growth,” said Ellis. “We have staff that would allow us to take on a lot more work, and we have developed systems and processes that allow us to take on jobs of almost any size and be successful at them without having to do rapid ramp up of hiring. We have built a really good team.”
Ellis and his team have done over 30 buildings since they began and have perfected ways of getting their work done in not only an environmentally friendly way but in a very organized fashion as well. With this color-coded system that they have created for themselves, they are able to start building and creating a lot quicker and do not have to start from scratch every time.
“We feel we could franchise or license our process to other builders outside of this area that may want to contribute in the same way we do.”
One day Ellis hopes to have My Green Buildings known not only regionally but nationally.
“I could have a My Green Buildings in Boston and then when people from Boston moved down here to have their vacation homes built they could find us here, too.”
205 N. Orange Ave., Suite 1 SE, Sarasota
Start date: 2006.
Number of employees when started: Two
Number of employees now: 10
Advice to other small business owners: “Become a resource for people, help to educate your community on what it is that you do and why that you do it, perhaps differently than anyone else. Learn to celebrate your successes. Don’t forget to give back to your community that supports you.”
Biggest challenge: “Managing sustainable growth and cash flow, like any business cash flow’s king. Staying organized so that you put process and systems in place to help you achieve your goals without duplicating and reinventing the wheel every time you start a new project. Define and refined process as you grow.”
Best place to go for a power lunch: “I walk around the corner to Main Street, and there are about 15 different restaurants that I go to on Main Street.”
First day on the job: “I remember that everything in the paper at that time was that construction industry was being slaughtered and the economy was screeching to a halt, and it took all the courage we could muster to fly directly into the face of all that and start our business and believe that we could be successful in a shrinking economy.”
If you could have any job for the day, what would you do? “I’d be an artist. I’d probably be an architect, and I’ve always wanted to be an architect, but when I think of architecture I think of art. A painter and sculptor, right?”
Who is your business hero? “My dad. He was a developer in Boston, and he rehabbed old warehouses and turned them into something new. He renovated the Chickering Piano Factory and turned it into artist lofts and built the first condo in the historic Rockingham hotel. I always really enjoyed going and visiting his sites.”
What have you had to do differently in this business climate? “I think everything. We learned some hard lessons from mistakes other companies made. Other people downsizing and going into consolidation and protection, we were reaching out heavily and advertising. We put on seminars and taught people about the benefits in cost and health and safety and lifestyle in green building. We really wanted to teach the community about all that, because when we started it hadn’t quite become mainstream.”
What is one advantage of having your business in Sarasota? “The life — life outside of the work. This is a gorgeous place. I love the architecture here and the lifestyle.
Contact Rachel S. O'Hara at [email protected].