1. Tell me about yourself and your background.
"I went to the University of Michigan. Started out and knew I wanted to be an engineer but didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in engineering but I just really liked the mindset of breaking stuff and fixing stuff and all that. That’s why I chose the University of Michigan. I did my undergrad in mechanical engineering and towards the end of undergrad I needed a couple extra credits in order to graduate. There was a professor at the time that was focused on some battery research and there was a few characteristics about the way that she operates that I really admired so I asked her if I could do independent research with her and her team. She was launching, at the same time, a graduate program called Energy Systems Engineering, so she invited me to apply and be a part of that initial cohort, so that’s actually how I ended up getting into my master’s program, which focused on all forms of renewable energy. My specialty was entrepreneurship and electric vehicles. Part of that graduate program was working at General Motors. There were nine of us in that initial cohort. Myself and one other team member were assigned to a research lab for GM, so we were back in this dark corner doing battery testing and learning about failure mechanisms and all that sorta stuff. Boring stuff on paper, but really exciting stuff to see. Through that, I got linked up to the state of Michigan, which at the time was looking to try and develop electric vehicles and battery industry in the state. Our state is heavily dependent on the automotive industry for the economy. That’s our largest industry by far, so the state wanted to protect that. They knew that the future was electric vehicles and batteries. They wanted someone to come in and help them figure out how to build that industry in Michigan, so I ended up accepting a job there. I spent about ten years with the state of Michigan with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and did a series of different roles internally. The most fun I had was in electric vehicles and batteries. Then I slowly transitioned into business development and strategy roles. And then I just reached a point where I missed being engaged on the technology side. I kind of got too far into the business development role. So that’s what brought me to NextEnergy, and I just really like engaging with the technology, understanding the application and just how that technology can make an impact in the future from both a business standpoint and a societal standpoint."
2. What do you love most about your job?
"So, I’ll answer it two ways. This job and the topic of my job. I’ll start with the topic: I really enjoy the technology aspect. When you're on the forefront of technology, you get to see not only what it is capable of, but also help shape what it can do in terms of impacting my own life and the lives of those around me, society, community. That’s what I love about the role that I'm in.
What I love about this job is the autonomy I have to make decisions and participate in different areas of mobility that I think are both impactful for our organization and our organization’s mission. I really enjoy being in a small organization of ten people. I might be in charge of mobility, but because we are so small, I play a role in marketing, in business development, in strategy. I’m engaged in different levels and that’s something that when you get in a large organization, you don’t have an opportunity to engage in that many areas."
3. What are some hopes you have for NextEnergy?
"I would love to see NextEnergy grow. I believe in our mission. I believe in contributing to better environment and better society, cleaner more sustainable solutions. I really do think that what we work on and focus on on a daily basis is geared towards driving that mission. So, I really would love to see NextEnergy grow in terms of the number of projects that we are working and therefore the number of communities and industry partners and stakeholders that we’re engaged with. I would also like to see it grow from the number of people standpoint. As we engage with more of those communities and get involved with more projects, I’d love to see our team grow so that we’re able to contribute in more ways."
4. What is the biggest hurdle you have had to overcome while working here or in general?
"First one, when I first started out in the technology space, it was when I started with the state. We were meeting with a company that wanted to expand and hire more people, in Michigan in the area of Electric Vehicle development. I was in that meeting and it was with myself and my boss, 21 years, and I was looked at as the expert in my field at that time. We were working with the company who was a great company, very respectful. And then there was a local partner that was part of the community and this individual, when I walked in, she joked with me and my boss “is it bring your son or daughter to work day?” And so I shrugged it off, kind of didn’t say anything, didn’t make a big deal out of it. While we’re sitting at the meeting and the company is describing us their plans, so I asked questions about what they’re going to achieve, the technology and the strategy. And this individual, again, literally stopped me in the middle of my response and said “yeah, what is it that you do again? Why are you here?” and it was very disrespectful and it was 100% pointed at my age. I was too young in this person’s eyes to be able to contribute. So I, very politely, described who I was and why I was there and I said “I’m sorry that’s an issue for you but I’m here for a reason. I’m here because I can and will contribute.” And I actually excused myself from the meeting and told the company if they would want to follow up in the future, I’d be happy to schedule a meeting with them. And just made the decision at that point that I was going to not take that type of response from that individual anymore. It was very tough to make that decision and fight for myself but I’m glad I had the strength to do so. My boss actually followed me out of the room a minute after me, and it was good that I had his support. As you’re young professionals, fast-moving individuals as you get into your career spaces, you have to find that balance to stick out for yourself and being able to do so in a respectful manner.
Another thing that I will say on a personal level is just confidence that you are capable of doing amazing things. I was very fortunate to be put in a great position at a young age to excel. I’m 33 years old, our director of smart mobility initiatives, and in many cases that’s still considered quite young so I spent a long time convincing myself that what I bring to the table is not just enough but it’s what’s needed. That I'm capable of doing incredible things. As you go out and enter your professional lives, believe in yourself and know that your biggest rewards will come from your biggest risks. As long as you approach what you do ethically and morally, the rest will handle itself."
5. Why did you choose to live in Detroit/what do you love most about Detroit?
"I’ve lived down here for a little over two years. To be honest, I originally moved down here because it was a choice between Detroit and Lansing, which is our capital. If you haven’t been to Lansing, sorry Lansing people, but there’s not a whole lot to do there. There’s Michigan State University; I went to the University of Michigan. We’re fierce rivals, you know. It’s kind of like Duke and UNC. So, you know, you probably wouldn’t go live in Chapel Hill, not by first choice. So that’s kinda what it was. This was back in 2011, and Detroit was just starting to gain some momentum, and I mean at the point it was just minuscule amount of momentum. I just spent a day down here and I was like ‘Hey, this seems like kinda a cool place.’ I’ve always wanted to live in a big city but I never wanted to give up my car and my ability to drive places, so that was kind of seen as a nice in between for me—being in Detroit but also still having my car. As soon as I moved down here, I just instantly fell in love with what it had to offer. What it has today is leaps and bounds beyond what it had when I first moved down here. There’s just something in the air. You know, you spend time in Detroit and it’s infectious. I think you guys have described encountering some of that with local residents and people that work down here. You just take so much pride in the fact that we are contributing to a city that is on the rise. So many people have written off Detroit as being nothing—like we should just abandon it. Cut your losses and move on, that kind of situation. So it’s really really cool to be a part of that in some way, shape, or form, even as small as it was to just live down here for a couple years. It’s not real compelling why I ended up here, but once you’re here it’s a great place to be."
6. What are some things on your bucket list?
"Wow. Oddly, I don’t really have like a bucket list. But I would say, skydiving. I’m terrified of heights, like absolutely terrified of heights and I will probably need to be the person who’s like at the back of the plane. Like you just open me the door and tell me to jump and I just run. I can’t stand there and look out. But at some point, it is on my bucket list. I don’t know if I’ll check it off, but it’s there.
I would love to start my own company. You know, I did have a startup in college. Very minuscule, obviously didn’t work. But I would love to part of something maybe a little more developed.
There’s a lot of people that want to tour the world. I think there’s so much to offer in the United States, let alone Michigan. There’s so much of the state I haven’t even explored, and this is my home state. I bleed maize and blue. I would love to rent an RV and tour the state of Michigan for like a month and just see different places and learn about the different cultures within local cities and communities around the state. And then if I complete that task then maybe I’ll expand to other parts of the US or the Midwest. I would consider that maybe a bucket list item, but realistically I don’t think a whole lot about my bucket list just yet. That’s just the type of person I am. Once I get towards the end of my career, then I’ll see what I look like financially and then I’ll start doing bucket list items."
7. What is your life motto?
"I would say I combine two separate sayings. The first one is “one life, no regrets.” It was always a questions that was asked to my generation when we were kids. I remember being 6 or 7 years old and it was supposed to be like “I would go back and do this thing differently so I will be a millionaire.” And I always would say nothing because I sit here today and I actually really like the person I am. I’m not perfect by any means, but I really like who I am, how I view the world, who I surround myself with. Realistically, if I go back and change something, I might not be this person, so if I weren’t happy with myself, I would have a different answer but generally I’m pretty happy with who I am.
The second is "fail as fast as possible.” You kind of grow up with all these rules that generally exist for your own protection, but...there’s a book by Josh Linkner and he talks about creativity and how we lose it after some point in our childhood. But, failure is not something to be frowned upon; it’s not something we need to be afraid of. When you do something and it’s successful, you don’t necessarily know why it succeeded. If you do something and it broke or it failed, but you can generally go back and identify ways why it failed and correct those things. I try to encourage, in myself and others, a healthy approach to failure which is that it’s okay to fail a lot if you do it in small amounts and it doesn’t grow at such a cost that it creates a massive issue. Don’t be afraid to fail. Fail as fast as possible."
8. How would you describe social entrepreneurship?
"Social entrepreneurship to me is entrepreneurship that at its core is addressing a need or solving an issue for some societal problem. In the business world there is a thing called the triple bottom line and it’s basically be profitable, but be profitable in a way that focuses on environmental sustainability and by extension environmental sustainability is what’s good for the community and what’s good for multiple generations and that sort of thing. From an entrepreneurial standpoint in social entrepreneurship, the specific goal is not just to drive profits but to drive profits in a way that those profits can be utilized to create a positive impact, if I were to try to sum it up in one sentence."
9. What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
"I would say one of the best things you can do if you are trying to pursue a social entrepreneurship goal is to network. There are so many people out there that have a passion for what it is you’re trying to solve and that passion can be turned into power. So your ability to link up with those other like-minded individuals and sometimes those individuals are also corporations, whether it’s a for-profit or non-profit or a community engagement group. So definitely focus on networking, focus on spreading your passion, focus on getting engagement from others. You might want to solve a problem, you might be super passionate about it, but you might also need a lot more information to figure out how to solve it the right way, to figure out how to solve it effectively. Developing that network will help you fail fast, fail as fast as possible. So that if you do have a great idea, but maybe you’re missing some information on what’s important, you’ll be able to identify that information quickly and be able to adjust your plan and maybe put something in motion that will be more effective."