Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

CIE News

Friday Feature: Mack Coyle and Solar Innovation

By Nikki Kroushl on August 26, 2016

All Photo Credit: UNCW/Jeff Janowski

Mack Coyle’s journey to innovation began with a friend who had a problem: his family couldn’t open a resort in the Virgin Islands because they could’t get a business permit to use fresh water. Coyle, who had years of experience with power systems, said, “Well, you could build a self-powered solar water purification system.” The next day, the friend called back and asked if that were really possible. It was—and still is.

Coyle, LLC got its start as Coyle Industries Inc. after years of Coyle’s personal obsession with building a portable solar generator. When another friend challenged Coyle to build a machine that could power a wedding by the wedding date, Coyle rose to meet the challenge.

“It looked kind of like the robot from Lost in Space that wobbled back and forth and was very clumsy!” Coyle said, laughing.

“The first machine worked really well, and it powered the wedding, but it was really a one-time design,” Coyle said, describing the initial instability and danger of the design. “Everyone at the wedding went crazy over the thing and said, ‘this could be a business, you could sell these things.’”

So he did. Several years and iterations later, Coyle, LLC now manufactures unitized, automatic devices that are always on and require almost no assembly by consumers. They are portable solar generators that also have power management and water pumping capabilities. They can connect to external AC electricity sources and can automatically start and stop generators to optimize fuel consumption. They are versatile enough to power medical equipment, security lighting systems, homes, or emergency stations, and they double as agricultural equipment that makes water potable.

The first machine Coyle built after the Lost in Space version, called the Chick Mahoney after his grandfather, went into service on a farm the day he finished it and remained in service for eighteen months. Seven years later, Coyle is now about to release the CM.


After the CM but long before the CM, back when the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship was known simply as the “Entrepreneurship Center,” Coyle was invited to participate in a RocketPitch event for his product, using twelve minutes to pitch to investors.

“I sat down with two venture capitalists after that and got a lot of good feedback and made a variety of contacts,” Coyle said. “The CIE is continuing [what it did for me] and reaching out to small businesses and engaging them, encouraging them, and providing resources. They did all of that for me before I was even a member of the coworking space.”

Coyle explained that he became a tenant at the CIE because it was cost-effective and easy to integrate different elements of his work, from building the actual machines to meeting with people.

“The CIE exposes me to a lot of information about what’s being developed in the real world at the academic and business intersection,” he said.

But Coyle has done plenty of reaching out on his own. After becoming a tenant following his RocketPitch experience, Coyle connected with several other organizations, using solar power for good. Coyle’s companies first worked with Clean Energy Events, a nonprofit geared toward informing the public about power generation and consumption and renewable technologies, using the portable solar generators to power events. People get a visceral experience,” Coyle explained. “Like, ‘wow, this whole event was powered by solar energy generated on-site.’”

Coyle, LLC also works with the Thumps Project (a nonprofit now run by UNCW students Jose Here and Paul Schweitzer, which works to meet the needs of returning combat veterans using experiential therapy), the UNCW Plastic Ocean Project (for which the solar generators will power grinders that break down plastic debris and reactors that convert debris into petroleum products), and powers various Surrender events.

“Solar power is more cost-effective and cleaner than the energy we’re using now,” Coyle said. “It just makes a lot of sense. It’s part of the environment, it’s easy to integrate, the prices are dropping… and the faster we adopt it, the faster the price goes down.

“All the cutting-edge stuff,” Coyle added, “is where North Carolina excels. We discovered that we could actually build our machines cheaper in North Carolina and have a higher quality cost. North Carolina has the highest-quality level of manufacturing in the world…. The ‘made in USA/made in NC’ label, that’s really a gold standard.

“Innovation occurs,” Coyle said, “when you have people physically working on the same thing in huge numbers—that’s when people are thinking about how to make it better, and change occurs… the people building the machines are the best in the world… and that’s the kind of innovation and entrepreneurship that the CIE should and does represent.”

UNCW/Jeff Janowski