John Conklin Bio

John Conklin '15 Proves You Should Never Stop Learning—Even If You're a CEO

Not many undergraduate students are CEOs of publicly traded companies when they receive their diplomas on graduation day. When John Conklin ’15, the 2016 Distinguished Alumnus from the School of Individualized Studies, walked across the Commencement stage, he was mostly like the only one who could claim that honor among his RIT peers.

By the time Conklin enrolled at RIT, he had almost 30 years experience in industrial process innovation and design for companies like Frito Lay, IBM, and Lockheed Martin, but had longed to get his bachelor’s degree from RIT.

“Getting back to school was a passion of mine,” Conklin said. “RIT has a lot of concentrated creativity and offers functional, purposeful, and real world education. It’s been a home away from home.”

RIT was a natural fit for Conklin, in many ways, as even the campus itself resonated with another passion of his—renewable energy.

Since his days as a Boy Scout, when he turned light energy into electricity, Conklin has been involved with renewable energy, in some capacity, for the majority of his career. In 2010, while an RIT student, he was named the President and CEO of SolarWindow Technologies, Inc., a company developing electricity-generating see-through coatings for windows and flexible plastics using organic photovoltaics (OPV).

When Conklin took the helm of SolarWindow Technologies, their eponymous product was just a tiny proof of concept. As an SOIS student studying physics, business, social leadership, and safety and science technology, he could immediately apply what he was learning in the classroom to developing the product—a process that is still ongoing.

“After seven years we are now on the product development phase,” Conklin said. “Although it takes time, you can’t get frustrated in the process. Most people tend to quit before they finish. Persistence is key.”

With dramatic reductions of PV system installation costs from $10 per watt just a few years ago to under a $1 a watt today, Conklin’s persistence in developing an OPV product for skyscraper and tall tower windows should be paying off shortly.

“Everyone has to gain from renewable energy. There is no slowdown in sight for at least the next 20 years.”

John is currently working on his Master of Professional Studies Degree in the RIT School of Individualized Studies.