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Your Mentors

The first class mentorship offered means successful startups will have the chance to learn from experienced subject matter experts, who will be on hand to help at the dedicated program office at AEP’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

Ram Sastry

Vice President – Innovation and Technology

American Electric Power

Ram Sastry is vice president – Innovation and Technology, reporting to Steve Haynes, senior vice president – Strategy and Innovation. In this role, he is responsible for identifying new technologies and business models in the United States and internationally that will help position AEP for success.  Promising technologies and/or business models are piloted or evaluated and then transitioned to AEP operating companies or business units for deployment.

Prior to this, from 2014 to 2018, he served as vice president – Enterprise Innovation and Resiliency, responsible for developing and implementing plans for creation of new AEP data centers and building a robust business continuity and crisis management organization to serve the enterprise.

Sastry joined AEP in 2002 as director – IT Audits. He was named director – Distribution Research & Technology in 2009 and became director – Utility Research, Processes and Systems in 2012. He was named director – Distribution Support in January 2013.

Prior to joining AEP, Sastry served as senior director at Covansys (now a CSC company in alliance with Hewlett Packard), a global consulting and technology services company. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Victoria Jubilee Technical Institute.

Sastry is a Project Management Professional, a Certified Internal Auditor, a Certified Information Systems Auditor, a Certified Fraud Examiner and a Certified Information Systems Security Professional.

He and his wife, Pallavi, have two sons and reside in Dublin, Ohio.

Chris Johnson

Director – Enterprise Innovation and Technology

American Electric Power

Johnson is an energy industry veteran focused on technology innovation and enterprise transformation. Big on lineage, he sees his mission as connecting the past and present to help make the world move forward.

Since he was a kid, he’s been fascinated with how the world moves, beginning with his “first career” as a kid in small town, Ohio, helping his parents manage a family business.

Between that experience and his family’s influence, he learned to be fearless about starting at the bottom, getting his hands dirty and learning how the world moves piece by piece.

Johnson’s “second career” was just as hands-on – flipping houses to pay rent while he made his way through college. Here he proved to himself he had what it took to make change happen, growing that “enterprise” from him and his boss doing odd jobs into a legitimate six-person, well-organized team.

Over the past 12 years at AEP, he’s worked his way up from the plant floor to lead the Innovation team, which has given him invaluable experience in understanding what’s broken, why and how to fix it.

Johnson learned that lineage means honoring the advancements that built the past and appreciating what we have now because of them, while strategically and fearlessly stripping away what doesn’t work anymore to continue the chain of innovation that’s moved us out of fire lit caves and into the lamplight of our modern city streets.

Through his time at AEP, Johnson has also come to understand that change means tying a vision of what could be to dollars and cents revenue growth and cost savings today. Make innovation make sense for the leaders of today, and you can deliver a better world to the leaders of tomorrow.

That’s why he helped found Innovation at AEP and Kyte Works, AEP’s innovation lab focused on building the energy company of the future.

In just one short year, the team has partnered with Singularity University and NCT Ventures to launch Columbus, Ohio’s Smart City Accelerator, become the first North American utility member of Free Electron’s global energy startup accelerator, started two internal startups with projects deployed and accelerated a number of startup companies.

Johnson holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental, safety and occupational health management from the University of Findlay.

He and his wife, Courtney, have a son and reside in Columbus, Ohio.

Mark Berndt

Director – Business Development & Special Projects (AEP Ohio)

American Electric Power

Mark Berndt is director – Business Development & Special Projects for AEP Ohio, where he leads the efforts to benefit AEP Ohio customers through the development of new opportunities.

Previously, Mark was manager – Strategic Initiatives, responsible for financial & strategic analysis of new business opportunities. Strategic Initiatives coordinates mergers & acquisition analyses, strategic planning for the company and strategic business development activities across AEP’s business segments.  He joined AEP in 2007 as an analyst in Commercial Operations, working in various groups as part of the analyst rotational program, before joining Strategic Initiatives in 2010.

Prior to joining AEP, Berndt served in the U.S. Navy as a Surface Warfare Officer with tours on two ships. He also graduated from the Navy’s Nuclear Power School.  He holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree in business administration from The Ohio State University.

He and his wife, Andrea, have three children and reside in Johnstown, Ohio.

John Schwarck

Manager – Strategic Partnerships and Technology/Investments

American Electric Power

John Schwarck, CFA, is manger – Strategic Partnerships and Technology/Energy Investments for AEP.

In his current position, Schwarck is responsible for the strategic partnerships and technology/energy investments for AEP. He is focused on investing and collaborating with the most innovative companies in the energy, transportation, IoT and smart building sectors.

Previously, Schwarck was a member of the Strategic Initiatives team, supporting corporate strategy development and the evaluation of mergers and acquisitions.

In addition to his AEP career, Schwarck was employed by STRS of Ohio and Ameriprise Financial as a Senior Investment member on the Institutional Investment team.

Schwarck earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Minnesota State, Mankato and a master’s degree in business administration from St. Thomas University. Schwarck has completed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) program and is an active Charter member.

He and his wife, Caren, have two children and reside in Upper Arlington, Ohio.

Eric Wittine

Director – Customer Solutions Development

American Electric Power

Eric Wittine is director – Customer Solutions Development for American Electric Power. In this position, he is responsible for providing direction to a staff of solution line owners working to assist AEP’s regulated operating companies by providing subject matter expertise, developing business cases, designing pilots and assisting in strategic planning to meet the evolving needs and expectations of our customers.

Wittine first joined AEP in 2001 as an Intern Engineer at the Gavin Power Plant. Following graduation, he supported the engineering, environmental and regulatory activities at a number of power plants and new generation projects across the AEP system. He also provided regulatory support and expert testimony in AEP companies’ regulatory filings for approximately six years. He was named manager – Regulatory Research & Issues Analysis in 2013, manager – Technology Business Development in 2015 and promoted to his current position in 2018.

In addition to his AEP career, Wittine was employed by PacifiCorp in Portland, Oregon, from 2008-2011. At PacifiCorp, he was responsible for forecasting performance and costs associated with more than 12,000 megawatts of generation resources and associated commercial transactions for regulated cost recovery purposes.

Wittine earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Ohio University in 2002. Since 2009, he has served on the Board of Advisors for the Department of Chemical and Bimolecular Engineering at Ohio University.

He and his wife, Annette, have two children and reside in Upper Arlington, Ohio.