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Member Spotlight | FPL & 35 Mules

on May 18, 2020 / by Nancy Dahlberg ,


Read Time 4 Minutes

FPL - Palm Beach Tech Association MemberBusiness: 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.

35 mules Crystal Stiles FPL

Crystal Stiles

“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

Eric Silagy FPL

Eric Silagy at 35 mules event in Juno Beach, Fla. on February 10, 2020.

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

35 mules

Dr. Ava Parker, president of Palm Beach State College; Greg Haile, president of Broward College; and Dr. Mark Rosenberg, president of Florida International University discusses innovations at their campuses and how incubators help the local economy grow during the unveiling of FPL’s 35 Mules innovation hub at its Juno Beach, Fla. campus, Feb. 10, 2020.

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.”

Member Spotlight | FPL & 35 Mules