What started as a class project has blossomed into a unique business.
At a glance
Business: Golden Sun Taxi
Vehicles: Solar-powered golf carts
Location: Folly Beach
Owners: Matthew Coda, Jake Cotreau and Taylor Denny
Education: All College of Charleston graduates, 2014
Rates: $2-$5 per person, depending on number of passengers and distance
Website: www.golden suntaxi.com
Last fall, while in their senior year at the College of Charleston, Matthew Coda, Jake Cotreau and Taylor Denny happened to be in the same entrepreneurship class with an assignment for different teams to come up with an idea for a new venture.
Denny had an idea. He wanted to start a solar-powered golf cart taxi business on peninsular Charleston.
"I thought this is something no one else has done, and it would help with transportation," Denny said. If successful, it would be a first in the nation as far as they knew.
After getting to know a little more about Coda and Cotreau, he pitched his concept to them and they teamed up.
The three young men kicked around ideas, sometimes not always the same. Like any business partners starting out, on occasion they butted heads from lighting in the golf carts to the design of business cards, but over several months the sun-fired concept rolled into reality.
"We are all perfectionists in our own sense, but we all came together for the end product," Coda said.
On June 2, they launched their business, but not under the name - Gold Cart - originally envisioned, and not in downtown Charleston.
They didn't think the name symbolized the true meaning of the solar-powered golf carts, so they changed it to Golden Sun Taxi. The name matched their golden fleet of three 14½-foot-long models that can seat eight and are covered with a 12-foot, roof-top panel that collects the sun's rays.
Another hurdle was the location of operation. They found they couldn't operate the golf cart taxi business in downtown Charleston because of regulations against it.
"We wanted something to help with the transportation problem in downtown Charleston, but when that didn't work out, we looked elsewhere," Cotreau said.
They couldn't operate on the Isle of Palms because a section of the main road has a speed limit above 35 mph, the highest speed allowed for golf carts on public streets. Eventually, they turned to Folly Beach.
"It wasn't even on our initial plan," Cotreau said.
"It made sense to be here," said Coda. "It has more nightlife than any other island."
After getting licensed by the town, setting up the carts on Erie Avenue in the proper zoning district, acquiring insurance and traveling to Blythewood near Columbia to wrangle with the state Department of Motor Vehicles to get license tags for each cart, the three entrepreneurs began serving customers earlier this month. They also had to work out problems with the Canadian company that provided the solar panels and secure investments from family members and friends.
"We have had to persevere through a lot of this," Coda said.
"Even though we are all in the venture, we all had our own difficulties," Denny said. "We all had to pull different strings to pull together money. I don't think any of us could have done this on our own."
Starting out, the business seems to be revving up. Their first couple of weeks brought in "decent money," and they already have repeat customers, Coda said.
"The busiest times are weekend nights," he said.
The bars and tourists offer a good combination for people seeking a ride home after a night out, and they are already starting to serve that market. But they also want to tap into the huge destination wedding business that been mushrooming in the Charleston area.
"We hope to capture that market on the island," Coda said.
They declined to disclose how much they've invested, except to say it's a large sum.
When not in operation, the carts, made by Star EV in Simpsonville, if necessary, can be charged by plugging them into an outlet specially installed on a pole on Erie Avenue, one block off the central business district of the seaside tourist town.
"We can run all night without any problems," Coda said of the golf carts' power.
The solar panels send power to a converter just above passengers' heads. The power then goes to eight batteries under a seat.
The golf carts can generally go about 50 miles on electric-charged batteries. The solar panels add about 50 percent extra range.
"If we are rotating them all day, we don't have to charge them at all," Cotreau said.
All of the carts have seat belts, lights, horns, emergency brakes, turn signals, mirrors, music and even a plastic rain enclosure that can be fastened along the sides and scrolled down during inclement weather.
"During a wedding the first weekend we were in business, we put up the enclosure because the bride didn't want the wind to mess up her hair," Denny said.
They eventually want to branch out to serve more areas of Charleston, including Daniel Island or other resort areas, and hope to land service at cold-weather events such as the Oyster Roast at Boone Hall Plantation when the tourist business might be a little slow on the Edge of America. They also are selling advertising space on the taxis to bring in extra revenue.
Eventually, they hope to crack the downtown Charleston market, but they know that might be awhile.
"We don't want to be just on Folly Beach," Denny said.
"Downtown is a big goal for us, especially with all the hotels coming along," Coda said.
Around the clock
The taxi service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Because the three young men also drive the taxis, they moved to a condo unit just off Folly Beach so they would be close when the calls come in. That also means their social lives are limited, for now.
Two of them are always available for calls, while the other has the day or night off on slower days.
"We've done our partying over the past four years," Denny said. "Now, it's time to get down to business."
He's even selling his 2006 Jeep Wrangler, a vehicle he treasures, to help finance the business. "It hurts right now, but in the end it will pay for itself," Denny said.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.
3 C of C graduates roll out solar-powered golf cart taxi business
Three College of Charleston graduates have started Golden Sun Taxi on Folly Beach. They use solar-charged golf carts to carry their passengers around the island.×
College of Charleston graduates (from left) Matthew Coda, Taylor Denny and Jake Cotreau have started Golden Sun Taxi on Folly Beach. They use three solar-powered golf carts in the new business.×