April 2020: Crystal Stiles

Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) launched 35 Mules to spur innovations in energy, water and energy-adjacent fields. What impact do you think the innovation hub will have on economic development?

First, it is important to acknowledge that we’re going through a challenging time with COVID-19. This pandemic is changing the landscape of economic development. With that in mind, the goal for 35 Mules is to continuously support economic development efforts and businesses of all shapes and sizes in Florida. We want to jump-start entrepreneurial dreams – developing bold ideas into Florida businesses.

Florida is consistently ranked as one of the best places to start a business. And, thousands of technology companies call Florida home for good reason. With world-class universities – like Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University and University of Miami – churning out graduates with the skills to immediately enter innovative workspaces, tech companies have every reason to set up shop in Florida once they graduate from the 35 Mules program.

A win in our minds would be that at the end of the 12-18 months that the startups are with us at our Juno Beach campus, they are ready to move on to the next step, perhaps pitching investors for funding, commercializing a product and gaining customers and growing their business right here in the Sunshine State.

35 Mules is centered on entrepreneurship with the idea of developing bold ideas into Florida businesses.  Where did the idea of the program stem from?

35 Mules takes us back to our history of how FPL and our parent company NextEra Energy started. In 1925, a very unlikely patchwork of enterprises combined to form the precursor to NextEra Energy, including an ice plant, a sponge fishing boat and 35 mules.

We started from very humble beginnings and have since grown into a world leader in clean energy. At our core, we know exactly what it’s like to be a small, up-and-coming company. Now, we want to return the favor by sharing that experience and providing resources to startups and entrepreneurs in Florida.

We believe that this innovation hub will be a way for new businesses to reach their potential as they partner with a leader in the energy industry through our use of technology and development of renewable energy.

When choosing applicants for 35 Mules, what are you looking for and how do you determine who will participate?

 We are looking for the next best thing. We want to help someone turn a great idea into a business. The applicants will go through a rigorous review process that includes different committees of experts to make sure we can align and are a good fit to help change the world together.

How do all of your economic development efforts help Florida energy customers?

FPL provides affordable, reliable and clean energy to more than 5 million customer accounts, including businesses both big and small. This alone helps expand established businesses and bring new ones to the Sunshine State. As the largest energy company in Florida and one of the state’s largest employers, we believe we have a responsibility to do even more to advance the state’s economic development activities.

We offer economic development rates for businesses, have an award-winning team promoting Florida globally as a premier location for business and provide hands-on, tactical support for every economic development organization in the state. Our PoweringFlorida.com website is a key resource providing site-selection experts around the globe with direct access to information about Florida’s workforce, available real estate, utility rate options and potential discounts and incentives.
Since we started our efforts in 2011, our Office of Economic Development has supported more than 190 companies pledging to create more than 30,000 jobs for Floridians.

 As senior director of economic development for FPL, what would you say are the biggest challenges to growth in the energy industry? How can companies overcome these challenges?

 FPL’s President and CEO Eric Silagy recently spoke about this and I think it’s important for every company. Short-term thinking. It’s becoming more and more evident that we need to keep focus on long-term thinking. From unprecedented hurricanes to pandemics to technology that is continuously getting better and faster, we need to always be thinking years in advance, and we need to constantly disrupt ourselves to make sure that in the end, we are providing the very best product for our customers.

 As you know, at Florida’s Women in Energy Leadership Forum, we want to inform, inspire and motivate others to join and do well in the energy industry.  Upon reflecting on your professional experience, what prepared you best for such a large leadership role in your own career with FPL?

 My passion for economic development goes back over a decade when I joined a small economic development organization in Virginia, working to change the trajectory of a community faced with 25% unemployment. It was a large task and not for the timid. I embraced that challenge and built on the experience when the next opportunity came, and the next, and the next.

It’s funny. My dad worked for a power company for most of his career and I never saw myself doing the same. But when I heard that FPL was launching an economic development program and taking an active role in helping elevate Florida’s economy and ensuring every Floridian who wants a job has access to one, I knew it was the place for me.

In the eight years since I joined the team, I have felt supported and encouraged to bring creative solutions to the company and to the communities we serve. Working with NextEra Energy, FPL and statewide leaders at all levels, who are keenly focused on ensuring all Floridians have opportunities to live a better life, inspires me to do my best every day.

 What advice would you give to anyone considering a career in the industry?

While this publication is largely focused on the energy industry, I am also firmly planted in the economic development ecosystem, an industry in its own right. Both are exciting industries right now, particularly in Florida as our state grows with consumers who want access to clean energy and also viable employment opportunities.

Technology, global business practices, and shifting consumer habits – where they live, how they spend money, and what is important to them – impact success in both these arenas. Big thinking and a willingness to roll up your sleeves to solve big problems, many of which we have yet to identify, will help ensure success. Economic development, in particular, requires flexibility and creativity as you consider solutions that help strengthen communities. These industries are dynamic and fast-paced, so bringing a positive attitude and a readiness to respond to the shifting landscape is important. If you can do that, jump in and get ready to have fun.

View PDF