Just call her Mars.
That’s the nickname six-year-old Martha Lenio gave herself as she spent her Ontario, Canada, summers gazing up at the stars and dreaming of visiting another planet.
Today her dream job is still to be an astronaut, maybe one of the first humans to explore — you guessed it — Mars. But for now, while Earth-bound, Lenio is drawing on her space-smarts to help save her home planet as the owner and founder of Mars Green, a renewable energy consulting company she promotes using her DreamHost website.
“Most of my work is with solar energy,” says Lenio, who officially started her small business only last year. “I come on to larger projects with solar experts and help them with whatever they need — usually usability studies, financial analysis, or design.” She also tackles smaller projects like energy audits, and much of her work has taken her to far-flung corners of the Yukon.
A Space-Age Domain
The consulting company’s name holds several meanings for Lenio. For one thing, it’s a stamp of her personality, drawing on her childhood nickname combined with her passion for a more “green” energy friendly planet Earth. “I think of it as Martha’s Green Consulting, but with a little added extra flavor,” she says.
“Mars” also represents the ideal Lenio strives for when it comes to finding solutions that maximize renewable energy.
“I think a mission to Mars is the ultimate sustainability challenge,” Lenio says. “You would have to recycle all your air and water. All your energy is solar power. You should be ideally leaving zero footprint. So if we can learn how to do that on Mars, we should be able to do that here on Earth. I like a challenge.”
An important piece of Lenio’s brand sits in her website’s URL. “I wanted people to know that I am in Canada,” she says. “I was glad that I could get a .ca domain from DreamHost because you can’t get that from some of the other hosting companies.”
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Mission to Mars via Hawaii
Lenio has been fascinated with the intersection of space and sustainability since college, studying mechanical engineering at the University of Waterloo (where she started a space-appreciation club that’s still going strong) and earning a doctorate in photovoltaic engineering (which, in case you didn’t know, means turning light into energy) from the University of New South Wales in Australia. After college, she worked in Silicon Valley for several years in R&D for solar companies.
Through all that, her dream of becoming an astronaut burned bright — and, in 2015, she got a taste of life on the Red Planet. “I wanted to get into the space sector, and I heard about a NASA-funded Mars simulation, so I threw my hat into the ring.”
After a year-long selection process, Lenio was chosen to captain a team of six “astronauts” living together in a Mars simulation dome in Hawaii for eight months. The would-be Martians lived every day like NASA astronauts, conducting research, growing their own food, relying on limited communication and supplies from the outside world, living sustainably, and leaving the dome only when clad in authentic space suits.
The whole thing was ultimately a psychological experiment, explains Lenio. The trip to Mars is long and isolating, and the first crews sent there will have to get really cozy. “NASA wants to learn how to support a crew without them going crazy and killing each other,” Lenio says, laughing. Luckily, her “crew” made it out alive.
“The first six months were pretty easy; we all got along pretty well,” Lenio says. “The last two months were more intense and there was a lot more conflict that arose, but we are all still friends today. There are things you have to do to survive on Mars. You have to work out for 1.5 to 2 hours every day, you have to maintain the habitat, you have to be doing research, and you also have to take the time to hang out with your crew members and have fun. There are no slackers on Mars — you have to take care of each other.”
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From Solar Flares to Consulting Biz
Hungry for more, Lenio applied last year to the Canada Space Agency’s 2017 astronaut open recruitment campaign. Of 3,772 applicants she made the agency’s first cut down to 72, qualifying for stringent training and aptitude testing. Lenio didn’t make the final team, but she’s still got Mars on her mind. “I wouldn’t want to do a one-way trip to Mars, but I would still like to go one day,” she says. “Having done the simulation, I know that I can mentally hack it.”
But for now, she’s focused on using her lessons in Mars sustainability to make Earth a better, greener place. And if she can’t live on Mars right now, her home country is the next best thing.
“I always wanted to come back to Canada,” Lenio says. “We don’t have solar silicon device R&D in Canada like they do in Australia or California, so I had to rethink how I could fit into the larger sustainability picture in Canada.”
Enter Mars Green.
After adjusting to life after “Mars,” Lenio retrained in solar installation and systems design and used connections she forged during that processes to partner her newly hatched consulting biz with solar-installation companies and projects.
“One of my first projects was a feasibility study for the Yukon Energy Corporation,” Lenio says. She was tasked with scouting out two spots in the Yukon for a solar plant, then determining which technologies would make sense there, and how much everything would cost. “It involved a lot of simulation, which I quite enjoy,” says Lenio. “It was my first big project so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was really well received and lead to more projects, so I’m pretty proud of that one. This project was the first indication that maybe this will work for real.”
Starting a business for the first time always poses a steep learning curve. “There’s a lot more to running a business than my technical experience,” Lenio says. “There’s a lot of little things that you don’t think about, like writing contracts to hire employees or setting up the website, that can take a lot of time and effort to get right.”
Building a Green Website with Remixer
Luckily, Lenio found a partner to help her take the headache out of the little stuff. “DreamHost made the peripheral details that I don’t think about, especially with my website, really easy to do,” she says. Lenio had some experience with WordPress but didn’t have the coding skills — or the time to learn them — to create the professional look she needed to represent her work.
“When DreamHost launched Remixer, I was like, ‘OK, perfect!’” Lenio says. “I can have something that’s affordable and looks good with very minimal effort. That was a great addition.”
Remixer took the technical work out of building a beautiful website, allowing Lenio to customize themes to finetune a look that brands her work. Her website shines with photos of the sun she took herself around the world, and she hopes to add more original photos and examples as she expands her work on new projects.
“I want visitors to my site to get a sense for the breadth of my work — that I don’t only take on standard projects but also smaller and niche opportunities.”
Lenio initially relied on Google tools to run Mars Green and was happy to see that her existing accounts merged seamlessly. “DreamHost plays nice with other online tools like Google and WordPress,” she says. “I can buy my domain through DreamHost, but I’m not committed to using anything else; I can still use other products and servers with DreamHost. They leave it open for what people want to use. And I like that.”
Lenio says her painless experience with web hosting helps her stay focused on the work she loves.
“I like working in the area of renewable energy in Canada,” she says. “I’m doing what I want, where I want to do it, and I really love that freedom to pick the projects I’m interested in.”
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— Reporting by Sara Atwood