Fellow Spotlight: Todd Nelson, NextEnergy


Name: Todd Nelson

Hometown: Winston-Salem, NC

University: Columbia University ‘12



New Market Services, NextEnergy
Detroit, MI


What initially attracted you to Venture for America?

I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur in the clean energy economy after my junior year of college, but I needed to learn more about business fundamentals and get more real life and technical experience before starting my company. I also wanted to join a network of other people pursuing similar goals. Enter VFA, which was started the year I graduated. Great timing, perfect fit!

What is the best part of being a VFA fellow?

From a life standpoint – the other fellows. If you don’t believe me, try going out into the real world without a group of inspiring, helpful, interesting, and talented friends! It’s tough out here, but we’ve been here for each other in everything from near all-nighters during training camp, to move-in, to exploring a new city, and questions about a particular sector/task that were initially overwhelming.

From a career standpoint – Training Camp was invaluable in teaching me skills, coping mechanisms during stressful times, and recognizing my own strengths and weaknesses in the workforce. I’ve already relied on a lot I learned during those 5 weeks in my company so far – the ultimate measure of success.

And did I mention that VFA’s help throughout the company placement process resulted in multiple job offers from amazing start-up companies? That too.

What does NextEnergy do?

NextEnergy provides research, business development services, and testing platforms to existing Michigan companies to compete more effectively in the clean energy marketplace. We also help Michigan manufacturers map out the value chain, break into the clean technology market, and connect them to potential partners, investors, and buyers.

What do you do on a typical day at work?

I’m mostly doing research right now – which consists of marketplace analysis, supply-chain mapping, and one-on-one interviews with industry professionals. It’s perfect for me, coming into clean technology with a non-technical background, because I have to understand each piece of a technology from cradle to grave. Right now, I’m learning the ins and outs of multiple components of the energy economy, including vehicle electrification, energy storage, electricity generation and distribution, energy rules and regulations, electrical circuits/power electronics, and energy efficiency. I’m also helping out on the side with NextEnergy’s twitter account. And improving their auxiliary coffee delivery services (jk).

What’s your favorite thing about Detroit?:

Eastern Market, hands down. (http://www.detroiteasternmarket.com/) Do you like fresh, delicious, inexpensive, local food and a way to see all of the different faces of Detroit under the same roof? So do I!

And biking city streets with literally no cars on it – really nice compared to dodging taxis and tourists in NYC.

What do you hope to accomplish in your time with VFA?

From a knowledge standpoint – I want to learn the ins and outs of my industry and startups so that I’ll be well placed to start my company when the right idea pops into my head. While I’m biking home from work one day, of course. Just wait, it’s going to happen…

I’m also learning from the staff, the fellows, and the entrepreneurial community how to inspire people and get them excited about ideas that inspire me. That includes everything from public speaking, to simple communication of high-level ideas, to connecting with people from a variety of individual backgrounds. I want to be able to go out into the world – and not just pitch people about my idea – but get everyone I meet excited to work together to create the clean energy economy and a better world to live in. VFA (fellows, staff, company) has already started helping me learn and practice these skills, and I want to continue to do that over the following 2 years.

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