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Jul 1, 2019 2019-07

iMBA helps power Windfree's CEO to power Illinois homes and businesses

Eric Heineman’s post-collegiate dream was to run an organic farm.

“I quickly found out that working on a farm is one of the hardest jobs you can do,” Heineman said.

Eric HeinemanHeineman fostered that dream of making a career of green jobs first as a longtime Sustainability Director for the State of Illinois under former Governor Pat Quinn, and, since 2018, he’s been CEO of Chicago-based Windfree, Illinois’ No. 1 installer of solar panels at businesses and homes across the state.

“Illinois is having a solar boom,” said Heineman, 37, a graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep and Chicago resident.

Heineman said being part of Gies College of Business’ iMBA program has been a huge key to his growth as a CEO. Heineman, who is set to graduate with his MBA in 2020, said every class at Gies is directly related to how he’s running Windfree.

“The iMBA program really helps with my confidence running this company. It allows me to constructively second-guess everything I’m doing, and I have a great sounding board for my ideas,” Heineman said.

The iMBA program’s flexibility also has been crucial for Heineman, who has two young children.

“I don’t know how I would be able to stay in a master’s program if I didn’t have the flexibility of the iMBA,” Heineman said. “It’s something I’m very thankful for.”

Windfree has quickly made its mark on the solar power industry. Heineman began working there in 2015, and that year Windfree installed more solar than any other company according to Solar Power World Magazine. To date, the company, which was founded by Doug Snower in 2009, has installed more than 14 MW of solar in Illinois. As part of its 10-year anniversary, Windfree will be announcing the non-profit Windfree Solar Foundation. The nonprofit’s mission will be to promote solar energy nationally and provide solar energy solutions to schools throughout Illinois.

Windfree includes a diverse portfolio of more than 400 certified installations, including solar panels on the Governor’s Mansion while Quinn was in office. The company’s first installment took place 10 years ago at Burr Elementary School in Chicago’s Bucktown-Wicker Park neighborhood, and Oprah Winfrey attended the ribbon cutting. The installation, which cost $12,000, included small-scale wind and solar, Heineman said.

“I think it’s the future for a lot of homes and businesses,” Heineman said.

To sign up for a free evaluation to see if solar is right for a home or business, visit