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By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | FPL & 35 Mules

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: Florida Power & Light Company is the nation’s largest energy company, serving more than 5 million customer accounts across Florida. FPL’s typical 1,000-kWh residential customer bill is among the lowest in the U.S.

Parent Company: NextEra Energy

HQ: Juno Beach

President and CEO: Eric Silagy

Senior Director of Economic Development: Crystal Stiles

What’s new: 35 Mules, an innovation hub for selected startups in energy or energy-related industries.

 

This September, 20 startup entrepreneurs with game-changing ideas will move into FPL’s Juno Beach headquarters, in a collaborative workspace being designed for them. For 12 to 18 months, they will be part of FPL’s inaugural cohort of 35 Mules, an incubator and innovation hub.

In addition to the workspace, the companies will have access to subject matter experts in solar, renewables, innovation and smart grid, and free coaching from FPL executives, along with a grant of at least $50,000 to help scale their ventures. In total, in this first year, this is a commitment from FPL of about $2.5 million.

“We are looking for big, bold, brave, game-changing, world-changing ideas. We will be looking for things we have not thought of, products we have not heard of, solutions that seem 5 or 10 years down the road,” said Crystal Stiles, FPL’s senior director of economic development. “If we find a startup with a game-changing idea in any industry we will consider it, but we are really focused in the energy and energy-adjacent areas because that is where the expertise in our company lies.”

 

Rooted in History

The name of the program is a nod to the humble beginnings of NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company. Because of FPL’s innovative culture and its focus on being a driver and a promoter for the state’s economic development efforts, the startup incubator was a natural project to launch.

“We started our company 95 years ago with an ice plant, a sponge fishing boat, and a herd of 35 mules among a few other assets and 95 years later we have grown into a company that is globally significant. We are… the world’s largest renewable energy company and we are the country’s largest utility by retail energy sold. We have a lot to be proud of and we have a lot to share with these startups. We’d like to take some of these ideas coming from brilliant individuals in our community and outside our community and help them grow into businesses that we can ideally plant right here in Florida,” said Stiles.

 

Spirit of Innovation

The 20 companies have not been selected yet, but the decision will be difficult. Strong applicants hail from within Florida and beyond – at least 7 states and 3 countries, Stiles said.

35 Mules plans to customize the program to each entrepreneur in the incubator. “All of the startups will be at different stages … We want to work with each individual entrepreneur and make sure we are putting together a program of success that moves their company to the next level, whatever that next level is for them,” Stiles said.

In addition to cultivating industry-changing ideas, the program will also complement FPL”s spirit of innovation. The company has run internal Shark Tank competitions and offers a number of programs supporting innovative thinking. This culture has spurred internal innovations such as augmented reality training on safety equipment and the deployment of drone technology for line inspections that have made FPL’s jobs safer. “Bringing brilliant minds outside our organization will help inspire the brilliant minds inside our organization to think even bigger,” Stiles said.

 

The Big Florida Picture

In addition, FPL plays a strong role in supporting the state’s economic development efforts, Stiles said. “Our headquarters is here, our home is Florida, and we want to see Florida’s economy vibrant and thriving and strong. It makes sense to add an entrepreneurial or startup focus to the typically more traditional economic development programs we have offered over the years.”

Bigger picture: 35 Mules can help drive Florida’s already strong culture of entrepreneurship forward, Stiles believes. “I believe Florida can compete on that level with all the other areas of innovation in our country including Boston, Silicon Valley and New York,” Stiles said.

The idea is to add to what is already being offered by entities like Palm Beach Tech, FAU Tech Runway and other organizations, she said.

“We would love to see the next wonderful technology that is going to transform the energy industry as a whole. From our company’s standpoint, we are always striving for excellence, we are always looking to change the way we do things. If there is disruption on the horizon, we’d love find it, see it, nurture it and see what happens.”

FPL hopes to continue the incubator program with more cohorts down the road, Stiles said. “Get involved, stay tuned and come see us when the facility is open and it is safe to do so.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | FPL

Read Time 5 Minutes

Business: Florida Power & Light Company is the largest energy company in the U.S., serving 10 million+ people across Florida. FPL is one of the state’s largest employers.

Parent company:  NextEra Energy, a clean energy company and the world’s largest utility firm. 

Headquarters: Juno Beach, FL

No. on FPL tech team: 1,000 (approx. including contractors)

Speaking with: Michael Fowler, VP of IT at FPL

Fowler’s advice: “You have to be constantly refreshing your skills. If you graduate today, you will have to keep learning at an intense pace for the rest of your career… Otherwise you will be left behind.”

 

Michael Fowler is the Vice President of IT for FPL, leading one of the state’s largest tech teams. That includes all the IT professionals who support customer service, all who help get your power back on after an outage, and those who develop and maintain FPL’s mobile app and website. Under Fowler, about a thousand people work on FPL’s tech.

If you don’t know Fowler yet, you will. In addition to his executive role at FPL, he is the chair of Palm Beach Tech. He is also a leader on the Technical Advisory Committee for Palm Beach County Schools, passionate about nurturing the next generation of tech talent.

Let’s hear his thoughts about hiring tech talent and growing a tech community.

 

‘I DIDN’T KNOW THIS IS FLORIDA’

Before accepting a position at NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company, about 9 years ago, Fowler spent 23 years in utilities in the Washington DC/ Baltimore area.

“Who can say no to West Palm? Part of it was the job opening was similar to what I was doing in Baltimore. And the other draw was NextEra, with their focus on renewables – it is just a great story. Why would you not want to work for a company that is driving toward the next era of renewable energy at scale? How many times do you get the opportunity to jump onto that train?”

And he adds: “On my first visit, I said wow, I didn’t know this is Florida.”

Still, Fowler quickly learned that hiring in South Florida was not nearly as easy as in the Washington DC area. “When I stumbled upon Palm Beach Tech and their vision to make this a tech hub, selfishly I became very interested. I always have needs for IT people,” said Fowler. “It’s connectors like Palm Beach Tech that have brought the community closer together.”

 

MAKING IMPACT AT SCALE 

Should you think working in tech at a utility isn’t sexy, think again.

“When you peel back the covers, we do some really interesting work. And I think that we do interesting work because we have a lot of smart, creative people,” Fowler said.

In the old days, FPL field work would always take a human and ladder. Now drones do some of that work.

“What you will see in the future is not only is the drone taking pictures of the work or the inspection, but when you add in AI it will get you to better, faster answers as well. It is a really exciting to be here at a utility with utility scale problems and being in IT to help them figure out how to do that better, faster, cheaper and by the way there is the safety component. If you don’t have someone crawl up on a ladder, you have just made the world a safer place.”

There’s more, said Fowler. “We have done smart outage – how do you give customers the best, most reliable answer on when their service will be restored? Customers want better, faster, more accurate data. My team has tackled some of those challenges, as well as getting the technology into the hands of the people who work in the field.”

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE NETWORKING

Fowler meets job candidates through networking at Palm Beach Tech’s meetups and hackathons and through PBT’s career boards.

“They just don’t stumble onto Juno and walk in the front door and say I want a job… They don’t sit at home with a bookmark on Careers at FPL and look at it every day. It takes proactiveness on our part to get out there and find the people.”

In his role on the Palm Beach County Schools Technical Advisory Council, which also includes local universities, Fowler tries to figure out how to build stronger partnerships not only for better curriculum but also to better connect students with the jobs they are looking for, he said.

A Palm Beach Tech project Fowler is focused on is bringing on an apprenticeship program that will build even more technical skills in the region. Palm Beach Tech is in discussions about collaborating with Miami Dade College, which received grant funding to build such a program.

“If we want to be a regional player, we need to figure out how to make these programs scale regionally. We’re stronger as a region if we can develop these programs that allows you to live, work and learn near where you want to do that,” Fowler said. “But we need a lot of participation from businesses up and down the region.”

 

PREACHING CONTINUOUS LEARNING

The apprenticeship program will help people to skill up, whether they have been in the workforce and want or need to learn tech, or they received an IT degree but need to polish up with some certifications, said Fowler.

Tech professionals need to be constantly updating their skills. Fowler uses Cloud skills as an example. Two years ago, just 2 of the 30 FPL IT interns used Cloud in their projects. Last year about half did, and this year all 33 interns used some form of Cloud in their projects. “In the space of two years, we have gone from the Cloud is sort of interesting to it is ubiquitous – you have to be there.”

Fowler also believes everyone should look for ways to invest in the next generation. “If you are in a leadership position, figure out how to make that next opportunity for that intern or that new college hire,” he said.

 “We are only going to win in this world economy by focusing on education. We will win in the global economy if our people are the best prepared to do their jobs.”

Member Spotlight | FPL & 35 Mules
Member Spotlight | FPL