Helping Entrepreneurs Shine Bright in the Sunshine State
February 28, 2023
Manager of 35 Mules Danielle Mousseau leads the first in-house innovation hub backed by a global energy leader. In this TechTalk episode, Danielle has a conversation with EisnerAmper's West Coast Technology and Life Sciences Practice Leader Amar Bhatkhande about how this unique Florida-based innovation hub is helping early-stage entrepreneurs from around the world.
Thank you. Please tell our listeners a little bit about yourself, and where the idea for 35 Mules was born.
DM:Thanks. I'm Danielle Mousseau, and you get points for saying my last name correctly. I was joking before we recorded that you get 10 points for Gryffindor or whatever house you're into. But I'm the manager of economic development for Florida Power & Light, specifically overseeing the innovation hub, which is a founder-based program for entrepreneurs. I'll go into a little bit of my background first, and then I'll kind of lead into the story and how I got here. So I've worked at NextEra Energy, which is the parent company of Florida Power & Light for 15 years. And I've worked in three different departments spanning from our marketing and communications team, our customer service department, working out with electric vehicles. And more recently on our economic development team, which is where the 35 Mules Innovation Hub sits.
And really my journey to 35 Mules started when I was in high school, and I was in a Global Business and Entrepreneurship Magnet program. Which is interesting, I think, because most people ask me if I'm an entrepreneur. And while I'm not, I have kind of a circular journey to entrepreneurship and a passion for it. And in addition to being into entrepreneurship in high school, I was featured on our Shark Tank program. An internal Shark Tank program where I've had ideas funded, and I was on an all-female pitch team, which was really exciting. And we have a process at NextEra Energy for putting forth ideas. And I've had two of my ideas go company-wide. So I'm really proud of always focusing on innovation. And while I'm not an entrepreneur, I like to think that I think like one.
Now back to the origin of 35 Mules. It's really a way to support growing companies as a form of early stage economic development. So Florida Power & Light has been evolved in economic development since the mid 2000s, which is really about growing jobs and capital investment for the communities of Florida. Recruiting companies, and keeping the companies here. 35 Mules Innovation Hub is an early stage version of that, really keeping founders and great ideas here in Florida, and recruiting those ideas, and creating deep commercial connections.
And we're really proud of our program, which started in 2020. So we consider ourselves a little bit of a startup. And how did we come up with this crazy name? I always say it's not because I'm a workhorse, even though I am, if you follow me on LinkedIn. It's not a craft beer, but it really is a nod to our founding story at Florida Power & Light. And many founders have their own story. So Florida Power & Light, what many people may not know started as an ice company. And we had a sponge fishing boat and 35 mules to deliver the ice. So we're really proud of our humble beginnings, and growing to one of the top utility companies in Florida. And we're really part of a global energy leader, a Fortune 200 company at NextEra Energy.
AB:Well, from an ice company to power, that's a fascinating story. In fact, there are a few large corporates that started in the totally different field but are now leaders in a different arena. An example that comes to mind is Procter & Gamble, which started as a candle manufacturer, that is now a major player in consumer goods. What it teaches us though is that, to grow, one needs to be nimble and ready to change. That brings me to my next question. How has 35 Mules grown since it launched in 2020? And do you have any success stories to point out?
DM:Absolutely. And I think as I mentioned, we really consider ourselves a startup because we started in 2020. And if anyone remembers what happened in 2020, we were an in-person founder-based program that had to go virtual. So our first cohort, which was energy focused and energy adjacent focused, had to pivot and become a virtual program for a little bit. So that really challenged us, even though the intention of our program and still the intention of our program is to be in-person.
Many of our companies have had success already, and we're really proud of that. I'll speak to our current cohort first, since I'm the closest to them right now. And we've had one company raise $10 million in a series A round, which we're very, very proud of. And how does 35 Mules assist with that? While we don't do due diligence or provide anything like that to investors, we as a matter of practice, connect our founders to investors. Or if they have an investor that wants to speak with us, we can speak to the fact why we chose this company for our program, and the merits that they have.
Another success story that we have is NEPTUNYA Ocean Power from our first cohort, they won a Cade Prize. And I actually was very fortunate enough recently at the Synapse Summit to meet Phoebe Cade, and it's an incredible honor, I think, to win that prize. And they also just received an SBIR grant. And really what's incredible is that many of our companies have added jobs to the Florida ecosystem. So that's really one of the things that we track, is jobs created while they're in our program, and jobs created after our program. We do surveys.
And we have a very exciting project that I can hint at, but can't spill all the details on. We have a company from our first cohort that did move back to Chicago, but is now considering their first US manufacturing plant. And they're considering Florida as a result of being in our program, and having deep commercial roots in Florida. So I think those are some of the things we're really proud of, and bringing the full circle back to why we consider ourselves economic development.
AB:Well, I'm sure that it must be immensely satisfying to you and your team to see at least a few of your companies succeed, right? I mean, as they always say, "Nothing succeeds like success." Success, though rarely happens overnight, there's always a process behind it. So tell me what's the criteria to apply, and which startups make it to the final stage? Or I'll say feel free to respond by answering why a startup isn't selected to receive funding?
DM:Well, I will tell you. As nice, and as fun, and as helpful as I am, it's not the Danielle friends and family program. We have a very extensive review process. So I'll go into a little bit about our program, which will lead into the criteria. So we are a 12 to 15-month founder-based program. We accept founders from all over the world, and the startups no longer have to be in the energy sector. We realized that as a Fortune 200 company with deep commercial roots in Florida as one of the largest companies and capital investors in the State of Florida, we can help a business of any stage.
Our program includes access to Fortune 200 experts, as I mentioned. So we set meetings with experts from our legal team, from our HR department, from our IP attorney, any area of business that you think a startup may want to get an advice on, we would connect them with those meetings. We also pay for entrepreneurial coaching, executive coaching. We pay for marketing videos. And then we have a curriculum for in-person programming. And then also do external commercial connections. And getting back to our application, which I'm really glad you brought up because we are in an open application period right now. So our applications for our 35 Mules program are open until March 17th, which is St. Patrick's Day. So everyone should be able to remember that.
Our application includes the following category. So it's information about your company, your founder contact information, information about your product and service, how you think 35 Mules can help. And we have a detailed section on how we can help. And we require a 90-second video that requires presence of the entire founding team. Submitting a business plan, a pitch deck, or any additional documents are highly encouraged but not required.
So it's really a two-form, two-paged kind of easy form application. Probably the toughest part is the 90-second video. And my one tip that I will give everybody that people have heard me say is, do not make your video more than 90 seconds. That will be considered a no-go, that's not following direction. So following directions is rewarded in 35 Mules, but we have an extensive team of leaders from our IT team, different subject-matter experts, and then a layer of leadership review, and then a handful of companies then pitch our top executives. And we kind of whittle it down from there.
AB:Well, got it. So let me shift the gears a little bit and ask you about seeking help from business advisors like EisnerAmper. So at what point do you recommend that a startup leverage business advisors to help achieve key milestones?
DM:In my opinion, it's never too early to build a relationship with a key partner and business advisors like EisnerAmper. And I believe starting out on the right foot is really important Now, however, obviously when they're starting out, revenue may not be there, but understanding what services are available and what assistance may be available for free, to start. Many companies offer advice and key connections. And once that relationship is built, when they're able to pay for the services that their business really needs to go to the next level.
Like a 35 Mules cannot take them to the level that you all can take them at as a service provider. And having the right team around you, which includes service providers is really the only way a business can be successful. You're not going to manage your business if you don't know how to block and tackle in the key areas that are required to do business in the US, or even beyond. So partners like you are critical to their success. And for me, it's never too early to build those relationships because you're not going to choose a partner like that overnight. And if you wait until you need one, it's too late.
AB:I agree 100%. Because at the end of the day, we are in the relationship business. It doesn't matter, a business is personal. I do remember when we used to be Eisner, our tagline was, "Let's get down to business. Business is personal." So there we go, right? Now, it'll be very unfair to our listeners if I don't ask you this. You have had hundreds of conversations with entrepreneurs. If there's one piece of advice you would share with the first-time founders, what would that be?
DM:Yeah, it depends on the day. I have quite a bit of advice for founders. But I think if I had to narrow it down for this particular instance, it would be, build your network and meet as many people as possible. I know that founders are busy, and that may seem daunting, but you never know who's going to be that next great contact for your business. Acting like you have a short runway, and having relationships be transactional, will not be helpful to a business in the long run. Also, always offering to give back. As a founder, I love their passion and their aggressiveness to move their business forward. I'm inspired every day when I speak to them. But I do sometimes remind them, you can still help a large business, you can still help. You can offer to mentor. Asking how you can help is also very meaningful.
And I think that the mayor of Miami kind of said it best when he said, "How can I help?" And I think 35 Mules takes that to heart, that we ask a lot of people. I sometimes request things, but if I don't offer in return, how I can help. And I think that's how this podcast happened. Christine is a wonderful partner of Florida Power & Light. And we're both on the Florida Venture Forum board, and that led me to this wonderful venture today. So I think you just never know who's going to be on your team in the future. And having the right how can I help you attitude, and building your network, is more critical than anything else that I've seen so far.
AB:Well, Danielle, thank you for taking time to have a conversation with me today. And thanks to our listeners for tuning into TechTalk. Subscribe to EisnerAmper Podcast to listen to more TechTalk episodes. Join us for our next episode or visit eisneramper.com for more tech news that you can use.
Transcribed by Rev.com