Leading by example: why NextEnergy stands out in the Michigan tech industry

NextEnergy is a big name in Detroit, especially for such a small organization. You might’ve heard of them through their work, accelerating energy technology startups and connecting them to corporations like GM, but what’s interesting isn’t that they can stimulate connections like these, but that this company of 24 people has the agility to hold court with some of Detroit’s biggest companies and organizations.

Flexibility and being nimble is very important to us. One of the key advantages we offer to some of our larger partners, like Chrysler, is that we can quickly assess the quantity and timing of our work, so we can help drive things forward and keep them moving. Everyone at NextEnergy is well-suited to doing that. —Wayne Snyder, IT and Program Manager

 

Connecting in Meaningful Ways

Every Monday morning at NextEnergy begins with a breakfast meeting , where they map out the coming week—team duties, content discussion, checking in—and just stay connected, all over breakfast food provided by one of the team members. Wayne Snyder, the so-called “guru of all things connectivity” at NextEnergy, tells me this sets the tone for how their team works together.

Nextenergy collaboration table

Detroit designer Ali Sandifer and NextEnergy CEO Jean Redfield stand with the table that Ali created for NextEnergy's Collaboration Center, where weekly breakfast meetings are held.

Everyone is open to feedback—not just discussing the successes we see every day, but also the challenges, so that we can help each other. There’s not a whole lot of red tape—being a small nonprofit, we have to be really agile, we don’t have time to get caught up in politics.

 

He tells me they’re a very flat organization when it comes to office leadership. There aren’t many different management levels or top-down politics, but he’s quick to acknowledge that there are lessons to be learned from all styles of work.

 

We know that small startups spinning out of universities and whatnot—those are going to be very nimble little groups, well suited to the way we work best, but we also understand that established companies have rigorous methods and processes in place for a reason. We can build that into our plans ahead of time, so we can understand not just what it’s going to take, but how LONG it’s going to take.

 

Wayne says that early adopters and a general openness to new technology is an important quality of his team. Through pilot groups, early testing, and a planned rollout, he is able to deploy hardware and software in a way that is both agile and thoughtful towards their end-users. Through the use of pilot groups, test groups, and holistic decision-making, Wayne’s team stays nimble.

 

A Legacy of Innovation

For years, they’ve acted as a conduit for organizations to collaborate and innovate—they have over 2600 come through their doors each year, for networking opportunities, commercialization training and services, tours, conferences, and more.

Ultimately though, our goal is to continue cycling through new partners and technology groups, not just to showcase the individual light or energy storage device, but to illustrate connectedness, and how everything is talking to one another in meaningful ways.

As you tour their offices and laboratory space, it’s clear that they embody that innovative quality in everything they do. The entire office is a collection of the technologies they’ve helped champion—daylight harvesting fixtures, HVAC regulation devices, and unique car charging utilities—to name a few.

There’s no hesitation for them to take up the tools and products that they’ve put their weight behind. NextEnergy represents a spirit that seems to be capturing all of Detroit right now—always taking a chance on that next, innovative thing. By applying that openness to their day-to-day work, they’re setting a noteworthy standard for organizations all across Michigan.

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About

Garrett Wenger is a storyteller and marketer at Newmind Group, and a native to Kalamazoo, MI. He received his BFA in English Literature from Western Michigan University, and has heritage in Southwest Michigan’s creative writing community. He published his first book of poetry in late 2013, and he has been featured in numerous literary journals.