If you live in Florida, chances are you know Florida Power & Light. The power utility company serves upwards of five million families and businesses in our state. Its parent organization, NextEra Energy, is one of the largest employers in Palm Beach County.
These days, FPL does a lot more than keep the lights on and the energy flowing. Through their 35 Mules program, which launched last year, the company is empowering early-stage startups and promoting South Florida’s innovation ecosystem in the process.
“We wanted to leverage our position as a global energy leader, and our position as a respected and trusted economic development leader in the state of Florida, to grow these startups,” Crystal Stiles, FPL’s Senior Director of Economic Development, told Refresh Miami.
35 Mules is sector agnostic, but Stiles said that the program’s origins inside FPL means that it attracts many startups in the energy space.
Companies selected to join 35 Mules are given a $100,000 non-dilutive grant. “We want founders to be able to dive deep on their business and not have it be a side hustle,” explained Stiles. “That’s why we give them non-dilutive cash grants, which enables them to focus on their business for the period of time that they’re there with the program.”
Alongside this funding, 35 Mules provides founders with educational opportunities, such as leadership training from FPL and NextEra executives. The startups are given rent-free workspace at NextEra’s Juno Beach headquarters, as well as access to the FPL’s expert staff members. “With 15,000 employees around the country, there’s probably somebody who’s working on similar technology or has some knowledge about a technology you’re thinking about,” Stiles noted.
On Wednesday, 35 Mules held a graduation ceremony for their first cohort of 11 entrepreneurs building six startups. Graduates include West Palm Beach-based carbon footprint tracking platform SustainaBase and Boca-based renewable energy startup NEPTUNYA Ocean Power. 35 Mules reports that while these startups were engaged in the program, which lasted about 15 months, they raised a collective $13.5 million in grant funding and venture capital. “Each of these companies has made tremendous accomplishments over the last 15 months,” Stiles said.
“Even in the face of a global pandemic, these startups never wavered and are an example of what we can achieve by fueling innovation and entrepreneurship in Florida,” FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy said in a statement. “Importantly, they demonstrated that nothing is out of reach if you’re willing to work hard, collaborate, lean into challenges and embrace new ideas. I’m proud of how our employees provided invaluable insight and expertise to help tangibly grow these businesses, and we are excited to see what these startups will accomplish in the future.”
35 Mules will continue supporting these graduating startups through their new alumni network called The Herd.
The 35 Mules team is in the process of selecting startups for its next cohort, which it hopes to launch in the first quarter of next year. Stiles reports that startups from 9 countries and 14 US states have already applied. The application process is extensive, with 100 FPL employees weighing in over the course of six months. The final stage of the process involves pitching to a team of NextEra executives.
Stiles emphasized 35 Mules’ excitement about the South Florida tech scene in particular. “There have been some really exciting things that have happened just in the last year, with some multi-county organizations joining forces, collaborating, and even sharing resources,” she noted. “I think it’s important for economic development to speak with a broader voice.”
While Stiles acknowledged the buzz around Miami tech, she said the knock-on effect will be positive for Palm Beach and Broward: “Each of those communities is starting to come into their own and really contribute to all of South Florida’s tech activity.”
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