SEMO Electric is taking their fiber business beyond its typical coverage area and into the minds of electric cooperatives across the United States.
Sean Vanslyke is the CEO and Head Coach of SEMO Electric Cooperative and GoSEMO Fiber. He joined the Fiber Broadband Association’s Fiber for Breakfast series to share how the coop is sharing their experience with fiber by educating other electric coops.
Before venturing into the fiber business in 2017, SEMO Electric discovered a passion for education. The coop began hosting a regular event for its consumers, who they refer to as partners. The event became Camp SEMO, a two-day all-inclusive experience inside the utility services world.
“All of this can be replicated at your own organization, no matter what you’re doing--whether you’re selling fiber or you’re selling electricity, or even if you’re in the retail business,” Vanslyke explained. “Whatever it is, people need to understand what you do and why you do that.”
Camp SEMO started as an internal project so that attendees could learn the business within the business. That eventually transitioned to inviting people from outside SEMO, including the organization’s bankers and insurance companies.
The entire experience is hands-on so that partners can obtain a better understanding of the work SEMO does. Vanslyke showed photos of attendees milling down an electric pole while wearing hard hats. Attendees also have the opportunity to go on a ride along with a service truck.
After successful years with Camp SEMO, SEMO Electric set sail on another new front: fiber.
The organization officially entered into the fiber business in 2017.
“To get moving in the right direction we went to six or seven different cooperatives to learn about the fiber business from their viewpoint,” Vanslyke said. “We were a brand-new business and we didn’t know what we were getting into, so we wanted to learn from them.”
Vanslyke said he and the SEMO Electric team would drive out to these coops and on the way home they would discuss as a group what they learned and develop a presentation to share with their colleagues upon return to SEMO Electric.
“Then as we moved forward, we started getting calls from other cooperatives saying can we come and see you,” Vanslyke said. “And once that started, we took the Camp SEMO philosophy and turned it into Fiber Fly-in.”
Over the last three years, Fiber Fly-in has seen almost 40 cooperatives come and visit SEMO Electric. In early 2020, they hosted up to nine cooperatives at once, then throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, they have even hosted cooperatives for a Fiber Fly-in over Zoom.
At Fiber Fly-in, attendees experience fiber--many for the first time, Vanslyke said. SEMO Electric teaches about splicing and shows attendees what fiber actually looks like. They also visit a local station and rotate through different learning activities like how to connect the ONT on the outside of the box to the router on the inside of the home.
“I’m sure all of you, or most of you, are familiar with that, but you’ll be surprised when we bring people in that don’t know exactly what they’re getting into,” he explained.
At another learning station, attendees go into the boardroom and are walked through the finances of getting into the fiber business.
The goal of Fiber Fly-ins is to instill a better understanding of fiber for those coops that are looking to enter in the business but aren’t sure where to start, he explained. The atmosphere of the event is geared towards encouraging collaboration and communication between attending cooperatives, giving them all an opportunity to learn from one another.
Hear more from Sean Vanslyke and find out how to sign up for Camp SEMO and Fiber Fly-ins by listening to his full presentation on the Fiber for Breakfast podcast.