Flick Power founder and CEO Andre Ramirez ’07 energizes students with opportunities
Andre Ramirez ’07 wants to help people save money and electricity. As founder and CEO of Flick Power, he’s developed an innovative product designed to do just that—with the help of UCI students as researchers, interns and even product testers.
Flick is the result of Ramirez’s 15 years working in the energy industry, where he helped shape policies affecting millions of California residents.
Although he didn’t get into energy until later, Ramirez's interest in policy and advocacy began when he was a UCI undergraduate, double majoring in economics and political science with a minor in history. Outside of class, Ramirez played club soccer, was a founding member and president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and got involved with the Associated Students of UCI.
As executive vice president of ASUCI, he traveled to Washington, D.C., with classmates to lobby legislators to increase financial aid, which wasn’t keeping pace with inflation. Although the students didn’t succeed in that mission, the experience stuck with him.
“Being involved as a student shapes you and gives you experiences to draw on when you try things later in life,” he says. “It’s exciting to try new things – you never know where an experience can lead.”
Entrée to energy
Ramirez went directly from UCI to the MIT Sloan School of Management for his MBA, where he first got involved with energy issues. A classmate deployed with the U.S. military as a logistics officer in Iraq needed help. Fuel trucks were popular targets for bombings, which led to casualties. How could they reduce the movement of fuel trucks—not to conserve energy, but to save lives?
“We quickly realized they couldn’t email us classified truck routes, so it wasn’t a logistics problem, it was an energy efficiency problem. Instead, we focused on how we could reduce fuel use in non-tactical places like mess halls or automatically turn off air conditioning in empty trailers when troops were deployed,” Ramirez says. “That was my entrée into energy.”
Ramirez remained plugged into the energy industry, and joined Southern California Edison through a rotational program after completing his MBA, working on electric vehicle policy and helping to manage the advanced technology portfolio.
Being involved as a student shapes you and gives you experiences to draw on when you try things later in life. It’s exciting to try new things – you never know where an experience can lead.
“I had an opportunity to go into regulatory affairs, which didn’t sound very exciting until I realized that in the utility business, the regulatory realm is where you get things done,” he says. “You can’t do anything new and innovative unless the regulator understands how it’s useful and approves its use.”
In regulatory affairs, Ramirez helped orchestrate a massive project that moved millions of Californians from a tier-based payment system dependent on how much electricity they used, to a time-based system, where rates were higher during the peak usage times, around 4:00 to 9:00 p.m. He was involved in a huge public policy and communication effort to explain the new rate system to residents.
Yet Ramirez noticed that in focus groups and conversations with friends and neighbors, people always seemed to want more help managing their utility bills, beyond what was being offered by the industry.
“Everybody wants to save money, and save the environment, generally,” he says. “But most people think about energy only a few minutes each year, usually when they get their bill.”
His goal with Flick is to help people save money and the environment with minimal effort. He’s well-versed in the many ways companies and utilities have tried to help consumers reduce their energy usage: apps, text messages and gadgets that sit on the kitchen counter. But they each have their shortcomings.
Ramirez wanted a device that would fit on an existing light switch – something every home already has – and provide basic color-coded signals to educate users on the best times to conserve energy. To make it easy to install, it needed to be battery-powered. Thus, Flick was born.
He estimates Flick could save people 5% on their energy bill—and save enough power on a community level to help prevent rolling outages and protect the environment. Moreover, the price point is low enough that energy savings will cover the cost of the device in a short time.
“So many energy saving opportunities are abstract—you’ll start saving money in a couple years. But with Flick, it pays for itself within a few months.”
Ramirez aims to deploy Flick in communities that stand to benefit the most from it, such as apartment communities and affordable housing units—where he says residents tend to have 30% less awareness about energy programs compared to the average person.
In fact, UCI’s Vista del Campo Norte is using 200 Flick units in a pilot program – a full-circle moment for Ramirez, who was one of the first students to live in Vista del Campo when the apartments opened on campus. Although students living in campus housing don’t directly pay their utility bills, they tend to embrace sustainability efforts.
“The students who have been using Flick like it because it encourages them to do small things to conserve energy, and people appreciate that little nudge or reminder,” he says.
We found different opportunities ourselves and decided to go down those paths. So that inspires us to want to empower students to explore something that isn’t directly in their path.
Ramirez’s current connection to UCI extends well beyond the product. He personally leverages lessons he learned on campus every day.
“Whether it’s founding a fraternity or founding a company, there are problems and challenges for any new organization to get off the ground,” he says. “In college, as now, it’s always about the people in that organization; finding what motivates them and tying it to the overall mission of the organization.”
Since graduating, Ramirez has stayed connected to friends and mentors at UCI, some he met while a student, and others he connected with as an alumnus. He and his wife, Ashley Ramirez ’06—who works in recruitment and admissions in the UCI Merage School of Business—have been involved with the UCI Alumni Association, the Chancellor’s Club, and the School of Social Sciences Dean’s Leadership Society.
They both took career paths that were different than what they originally imagined for themselves: she earned a master’s in early childhood education planning to become a teacher, but works in higher education, while he didn’t go to business school expecting to focus on energy.
“We found different opportunities ourselves and decided to go down those paths,” Ramirez says. “So that inspires us to want to empower students to explore something that isn’t directly in their path.”
Through Flick, he gives UCI students opportunities to learn about the energy industry, the product design process and business development. He hires interns from UCI, sponsors a hands-on capstone project for students in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences, and has supported student research projects through Campuswide Honors.
“ASUCI, the fraternity, and my internship were impactful things that helped me get into business school at an early age,” Ramirez says. “Now, I want to give others opportunities that help them in whatever they want to go on and do.”
- Christine Byrd for UCI Social Sciences