Willard MacDonald was a young engineer at Santa Rosa's Agilent Technologies when the bottom dropped out of the telecommunications market.
He didn't wait to be laid off, but he took a voluntary severance package last year.
Now, he's pursuing a dream - starting a business that makes high-tech products for the solar industry.
"I wanted to apply my engineering skills in a way that would be more important to the world," said MacDonald, 35.
He convinced another ex-Agilent engineer, Mark Galli, to join the effort. They built their first invention, the SunEye, in the garage of Galli's Windsor home.
The SunEye is a hand-held digital gadget that measures solar energy with the touch of a button. Builders, architects, solar contractors and landscape designers can use it to measure a location's year-round solar energy potential.
Their company, Solmetric, will introduce the $1,255 device this weekend at Mendocino County's SolFest, the Woodstock of alternative-energy events.
Solmetric is just one of the startups spawned by engineers who once worked for high-profile Telecom Valley companies.
Another startup, Petaluma's Threshold Corp., has just released a home networking device that connects TVs, computers, security systems and other household electronics.
For MacDonald, solar power was a natural direction for his engineering talents.