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By: Lori Williams
Is anything bigger than basketball in Oklahoma City? Ask Brian Byrnes, the senior vice president of Sales and Marketing for the Thunder, and the answer might surprise you. “The Thunder has made a community investment play that is beyond basketball,” says Byrnes. “It’s called the Thunder Launchpad.”
Introduced in January of 2018 as part of the Thunder’s 10th season, The Launchpad is an accelerator program located in OKC’s Midtown district. “We are inspired by the other entities that are driving the future of our state’s economy,” says Byrnes, “and we wanted to use the marketing and media power of the Thunder to elevate Oklahoma City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
To make the Launchpad a reality, the Thunder has teamed up with StitchCrew. This is a company that helps technology minded entrepreneurs launch their ideas and obtain venture capital. So far, 18 have passed through the program; another group is being vetted to begin in the spring of 2019. The participants receive a space in which to work as well as other needed resources. They also are matched with mentors.
“The Thunder certainly has terrific relationships with the business community vis-à-vis all of our corporate partnerships and our business to business relations,” says Byrnes. “In many cases we have the opportunity to invite and encourage and validate the applicants who are mentors. Then StitchCrew matches the applicants, who are called founders, with the mentors and develops a customized business program for each one.”
“So that’s part of the value we see in the program, that the Thunder is strengthening its relationship with the business community through mentorship.”
There are other valuable takeaways from this Thunder initiative, both in validation and in lessons learned “In December of 2018,” says Byrnes, “I heard the incoming chairperson of the Chamber of Commerce state their four objectives for 2019. One goal centers on stimulating new business growth in Oklahoma.”
“I was encouraged when he cited the Thunder Launchpad as an example of local businesses giving back by building an infrastructure to help entrepreneurial start-ups take risks.”
As Byrnes and the team at StitchCrew help the founders take calculated risks, they are also learning more about the entrepreneurial process. “Going into this, we thought it would be a very linear a to b to c kind of process,” reflects Byrnes. “What we’ve learned is that it takes much longer than we anticipated.”
“During the twelve week program, we help the founders identify where they have growth potential. At the end of the course, we bring the founders to their presentation day and connect them to potential investors and financial backers.”
“But although the funding and financial backing has happened really well, it takes place three, six, or nine months after the founders go through the program.”
What does that mean for the next group who will launch their businesses this year? “We’re learning to have more patience,” says Brian Byrnes. “And now we see the post-graduation window as a very critical time to nurture and support the founders.”
“But we’re also very attentive to the fact that this is elevating our brand. It continues to showcase that the Thunder is progressive. And it is helping to address and support broader objectives for our city and state beyond just the Thunder enterprise.”
Written by: Lori Williams
“Oklahoma now has a Lieutenant Governor who is also small business owner,” says Matt Pinnell. “So, naturally, I’m going to be going around the state seeking out opportunities to speak to entrepreneurs.”
Before he was Lieutenant Governor, Matt Pinnell and his wife Lisa launched Binxy Baby, a company that sells baby hammocks that fit into shopping carts. Today the business is thriving and there are plans to launch two new products later this year. But the Lieutenant Governor still remembers what it was like at the beginning. “The attention to detail when you’re building a business is so important,” he says. In an interview ahead of his presentation at the March OVF luncheon, the Lieutenant Governor shares what those details look like. “I want to help entrepreneurs connect with the resources they need,” he says.
“We have the best career tech infrastructure in the country,” says the Lt. Governor. “Many classes are available to help start-ups bolster their businesses.”
The Lieutenant Governor also wants entrepreneurs to tap into the accelerators in the state. “The Thunder Launchpad and OK Innovate are raising money for investment funds. i2E also does a good job in that area. But we need more accelerators.”
“We have one of the best states in the country for philanthropic activity. So we need to get those people much more engaged in investing in business ventures.”
Engagement is key, especially when it involves connecting with the right people and resources. “When Lisa and I decided to launch our business,” recalls the Lieutenant Governor, “it was a slow build process.”
For example, it took time to work through the patent protocol for Lisa’s invention. But that investment, which secured a lockproof patent, means that the Pinnells are able to deal effectively with the legal issues that come with the territory. “It’s very frustrating,” says the Lt. Governor, “to see so many knockoff products on places like Amazon. I want small business owners to realize how important it is to find an attorney who specializes in patent infringement issues.”
“We went to experts in different fields very early in the process of building our business,” he recalls. “We identified a professional vendor in New York who specializes in manufacturing facilities in China. She helped us through that process.”
“It probably took us an extra year to get our product off the ground, but it paid off for us.”
Finding customers and making it easy for them to pay for products is another detail that must be carefully considered. “Shopify has made it easy for us to build the e-commerce side of our business,” says the Lt. Governor. “Another thing that has helped us is social media.”
“It is critical for entrepreneurs to quickly find someone who is technology proficient. When social media is done well, it’s a lot easier to grow a business.”
Growing a business, it seems, is a lot like growing Oklahoma. That’s why the newly elected Lt. Governor is seeking occasions to speak to individuals who want to invest in entrepreneurship. “I never turn down an interview,” he says, “and I’m always looking for opportunities to speak to people who care about these issues. Reach out to my office* and let’s talk. Because entrepreneurship is the future of Oklahoma.”
BY SCOTT MEACHAM FOR THE OKLAHOMAN
Published: Sun, March 8, 2020 6:00 AM
Laura Fleet, founder of SendARide, a company that provides patients rides to doctor appointments, Monday, December 23, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
Successful startups are all about vision and passion and great ideas. They are also about attaining metrics that lead to positive cash flow and attract investment.
When it comes to metrics, the customer growth story from SendaRide, a young Oklahoma company that provides customized, concierge, non-emergency medical transportation, packs a punch.
SendaRide serves hospitals, medical practices, and non-profits. Riders come from vulnerable populations, including seniors, people who have medical conditions, and riders with disabilities or special needs — groups who can be untrusting of traditional ride-share and uncomfortable with mobile iPhone apps.
In less than 36 months, SendaRide has completed about 60,000 rides. The company is continuing to add jobs — for sales reps, customer service professionals, and drivers.
"We found an unmet need and created a superior product with our own technology, our own customer service, and our own drivers," CEO Laura Fleet said. "When I meet with a potential client, no one ever says I don't have a need. No one ever says we don't fit."
Since SendaRide pricing is comparable to taxis or traditional ride share, budgeting is straightforward.
Highly trained and compassionate drivers and a dedicated in-house customer service team are SendaRide's secret sauce. Drivers are vetted according to the client's needs. For example, a hospital might require background checks, fingerprinting, CPR training, or flu shots. Safety and security are paramount.
"We do in-person interviews of every driver to meet the mindset and the mission of the company," Fleet said. "They are amazing, like-minded individuals."
SendaRide is expanding into five major metro areas in Texas — Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio — and plans to be in eight states within the next three years. The company is seeing a groundswell of interest from other organizations that serve populations with safe and secure transportation needs — churches, senior centers, adult daycare, oncology centers, and even organizations that help people re-enter the work force and need transport to interviews.
Just last week, Fleet met with several non-profits that provide senior services.
"All of them need help with transportation in some way — from required doctor visits, to lab visits for diabetes, to drug testing," Fleet said.
i2E has been working with SendaRide since the company launched in 2018. We have provided capital, leveraged with mentoring and customized venture services.
"i2E surrounded me with consultants and professionals," Fleet said. "I turn to them for advice. They brought in a sales consultant who analyzed our sales process. Now we have a hand-selected VP. If I were to call i2E and say I really need a marketing person, they would find me a list of vetted people. They are definitely hands-on. They do not abandon a company once they invest. We can ask their advice or help on anything."
That's i2E's mission and public/private sector model. We provide much more than capital, and we do not abandon a company once we invest. Our portfolio companies' metrics are our metrics. We measure our performance by their success.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham ati2E_Comments@i2E.org.
Like you, Revolution has been closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and what it means for the Rise of the Rest Road Trip this April. The tour involves thousands of participants and dozens of venues across five cities in four states. Unfortunately, given uncertainties about the ability of attendees to participate in the tour, we have made the very difficult decision to postpone our ninth Rise of the Rest Road Trip.
We put a lot of thought and time into making this decision, but believe that protecting the health of everyone that comes together for the tour from across the country—founders, startup champions, investors, and press—is of paramount importance.
We also know that part of what makes the tour so powerful is the opportunity to bring people from your community together—with individuals in the startup world from other cities—and celebrate what makes your city special. We want to make sure that when the bus rolls through, it has the desired catalytic impact we’ve promised.
We are working on rescheduling the tour and hope to share information soon, including next steps for pitch competition applicants.
All of our Rise of the Rest tours have provided an extraordinary lens through which to view a city and develop relationships with those who are relentlessly dedicated to building a better economy and future for startups and the city they call home. It became very clear during the planning process, that your city was no exception. We are so grateful for your partnership over the last few months and look forward to solidifying our future plans in the coming weeks.
If you have specific questions, you may submit them to RiseOfTheRest@revolution.com.
All the best,
Chairman and CEO
OKLAHOMA VENTURE FORUM HOSTS VENTURE OF THE YEAR AND MOST PROMISING NEW BUSINESS AWARDS
Announcing the finalists for the 2020 PVF Venture of the Year
and Most Promising New Business Awards
OKLAHOMA CITY 03-04-2020 – Oklahoma Venture Forum will host Oklahoma’s 16th Venture of the Year and Most Promising New Business awards ceremony on May 13th, 2020 at the Oklahoma History Center. Featuring keynote speaker Scott Klososky, Founding Partner with Future Point of View.
The Oklahoma Venture Forum is a non-profit organization formed in 1987 to encourage economic development in Oklahoma. The organization provides opportunities for investors, entrepreneurs, and others to exchange ideas and experiences to grow new and existing small businesses.
The Venture of the Year and Most Promising New Business Award are two of the most prestigious recognitions a company can receive because they represent the triumph of the entrepreneurial dream and spirit. Evaluation criteria for the Most Promising New Business Award will be based on: product or service innovation, market potential, potential economic impact, and more.
2020 Venture of the Year finalists include: Insights to Behavior and SendaRide. Insights to Behavior is an innovative behavior management company offering an exciting, new technology-based solution for developing behavior interventions for K-12 school districts. SendaRide provides customized non-emergency medical transport for the health care industry through use of an online technology platform.
The 2020 finalists for Most Promising New Business include Galvanic Energy and Canopy Weather. Galvanic Energy addresses economic and technical barriers to create an abundant domestic supply of raw materials for alternative-energy future. Canopy Weather identifies roof condition and damage within 1 hour of hailstorms by using innovation within the data science and AI required to create the original dataset.
“We are always blown away by the competition and look forward to seeing what new innovations will come next. Historically this event was held biannually but considering Oklahoma’s entrepreneurial growth OVF will now be seeking submissions for these awards each year. Each round of nominations & applications reveals a new group of entrepreneurial pioneers who deserve to be publicly recognized for their achievements.” explains Che’ Loessberg, Executive Director of Oklahoma Venture Forum.
The Oklahoma Venture Forum will have special keynote speaker Scott Klososky, Founding Partner of Future Point of View. The 2020 Venture of the Year and Most Promising New Business Awards will be hosted on May 13th, 2020 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The ceremony will take place at the Oklahoma History Center. Registration for this event must be done online through the website: www.ovf.org. For any inquiries about the awards event, please contact Che’ Loessberg at email@example.com.
The Fine Art of Balance When Branding A Business, City or State
Thanks to the state of Oklahoma and the city of Oklahoma City, branding is getting a lot of attention these days. Both entities released new branding this month to considerable attention, both good and bad. Branding is, and always has been, subjective as far as the public is concerned. As a branding expert, it’s been interesting to watch the process of introducing an entire city or state to new logos, cutlines and concepts that represent the entire city or state. Two different approaches have resulted in two very different end results. Both have fans and detractors, both for very different reasons. That’s the nature of branding.
Last March, Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell spoke to OVF about the his role in the re-brnding process for the state at the request of the new Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. This involved an short, open process involving literally hundreds of volunteer marketing, design and communication professionals. The best branding typically doesn’t come from “design by committee” but the new Governor and Lt. Governor wanted to involve as many opinions as possible in the design process, including representation from metro read, rural and tribal voices. The ending result was a multifaceted, multicolor round logo surrounding a negative-space star in the middle above the state name in a simple but modern font. Also included was the new slogan “Imagine That”. Opinions ranged from love to hate and everything in-between. Imagine that!
Just one week later, the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau launched an all-new branding campaign. The city a took a more direct approach by working with a local design agency being directed by the City officials and staff. OKLAHOMA CITY - The Modern Frontier is the new slogan for OKC regarding promoting the city for tourism, attracting residents and economic development. New multimedia campaigns will follow with the new branding attached to graphics, photography, video and multimedia assets to tel the story of OKC as the modern version of a frontier or the frontier version of modern living. Take your pick, it’s all up for interpretation.
The first rule of great branding: The new brand cannot be everything to everyone. Designing for “everyone” ends ups pleasing no one. A great brand needs to be identifiable, memorable and easy to connect to the subject it represents. The trick is balancing what and how much can be represented in the total branding package. In the branding process you can try to do too much, which ends up with a hard to read, understand or relate to brand mark. But you can also play it too safe and not move the brand forward in an effective way. Take it from someone who has designed hundreds of brands and identity packages, the magic is somewhere in the middle.
When branding the state of Oklahoma, there is a lot to consider. People, places, heritage, terrain, weather, and perceptions of the residents and non-residents. To that end, the state “branding by committee” process was not as successful as it could (and should) have been. The new branding is better than the old, tired material but that’s not good enough. OKC was smarter in approach, but didn’t push new boundaries in the final work product. I’m sure there was bureaucracy involved in the final decision. Both were due an upgrade, so no matter your opinion on the new branding it’s a welcome change.
So, what are the take-aways from all this? Branding is hard. Everyone's a critic. Trying too hard is just as much of a sin as not trying hard enough. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try to. Better doesn't always equal great. You can have too much of a good thing. Balance is the key. Leadership leads to the best results. Oklahoma is more than OK. We’re all in this together.
Bonus: Branding is big picture, intended to be used for a very long time. Ideally 10-100 years. Never less than 5 years without a major (public) change event as the catalyst for a new identity. Take your time to get it right, because you’re living with it for a good while.
D. Ward Hobson brings a range of business and intellectual property experience to his practice. Ward primarily counsels clients on the acquisition, protection, maintenance and enforcement of intellectual property rights on both a local and national scale. His experience includes managing patent and trademark portfolios, providing clearance opinions, devising filing strategies, procuring and maintaining of patents, trademark and copyright registrations, negotiating intellectual property agreements, reviewing and analyzing intellectual property due diligence in connection with asset purchases, and defending intellectual property rights through Trademark Trial and Appeal Board proceedings and various state and federal court litigation.
In addition, Ward regularly counsels clients on corporate transactions, entity formations, real estate transactions, commercial lending transactions, healthcare transactions and a variety of litigation matters.
It's never too late to live your dream. Our dream is to make a difference for women. A few years ago the three Babcock sisters (Donna Miller, Dr. Karen Nern and Dr. Phyllis (Freddi) Pennington) were on vacation in Miami. We were discussing our frustration with the lack of women in senior leadership positions and the 1 out of 4 women impacted by domestic violence and/or sexual assault. Our mother was a brilliant, beautiful nursing professor, author and activist who was also a survivor. All three of us have MBAs and two are medical doctors. Our mother raised us to be strong, independent women. Her battle cry was “To whom much is given, much is expected.” We have all taken this to heart and want to make a difference in this world.
Even though women make between 73 and 85% of all purchasing decisions, have trillions of dollars in spending power, control 51% of the private wealth and make or influence 67% of investment decisions, we hold less than 5% of the CEO jobs and around 21% of the board seats. The gap between our spending power and our representation in senior leadership is indefensible particularly since research has proven that companies perform better when there are more women in leadership roles.
When we began to discuss what could be done to drive positive change, we realized that the power was already in women’s hands. If we could get women to use their enormous economic power to buy from companies that actively create opportunities for women, we could shatter glass ceilings in a matter of quarters rather than decades. If we could also use a portion of the proceeds to create a funding stream that supported battered women’s shelters and programs that keep women safer, we could make this world a better place for all of us. Purse Power was born.
Purse Power is now working to become the primary source to find and buy from women-owned and women-led companies in the United States. We dream of playing a part in creating a day when our daughters, granddaughters, sons and grandsons can achieve their dreams irrespective of gender.
Women in Business: advantages, challenges, and opportunities.
March Power Lunch
Oklahoma Women's Coalition
by Lori William
As young Liz Charles traveled the world, she noticed a pattern: “People would tease my mom and they wouldn’t let her speak. So I saw her own personal fight with trying to have her space and equal opportunity.”
“Both my parents were pastors and missionaries, but my mom got shot down because she was a woman.”
Now Liz is in Oklahoma, and she is continuing the fight for women’s rights in her position as Executive Director of the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition,
The coalition’s mission is “to champion the collective power of Oklahomans to advance gender equity and justice.” Underscoring this mission are two key initiatives: Pay transparency legislation and a pipeline to politics.
“There’s a lot of mania around the topic of pay transparency,” says Liz Charles, who is eager to clarify the language of two bills being considered by Oklahoma House Committees. One of the bills seeks to raise fines charged for violations against the Equal Pay Act. “These fines haven’t been raised since the Act became law in 1963,” says Charles. “Though we aren’t asking for numbers in line with inflation, we are asking for a bit of an increase for employers who discriminate against women.”
The Coalition is championing another piece of legislation that falls along the same lines. “We want folks to be allowed to inquire, through proper, established channels, about the salary ranges at their workplace.”
“Right now, asking someone with your same experience and education about their salary can get you fired. So we are working on a bill that would allow for more transparent conversations.”
And it takes many conversations to get to that level of transparency. “We’ve introduced these bills during the last four legislative sessions,” says Liz Charles, “and there have been amendments along the way.”
In contrast to a legislative process that may take years and conclude with an unexpected outcome, the annual Pipeline to Politics Conference delivers every time. “It’s a win-win,” declares Charles, “because every woman who attends leaves with an understanding of local level politics.”
“The conference is for any woman of any age who is interested in public service. The speakers are from all levels of government, from school board members to legislators.”
Not surprisingly, the conversations at this one-day conference are very transparent. Topics include how to campaign for yourself, what to do when you win, what to do you when you lose, and how to campaign for another candidate.
The full circle conversations are the best. Says the Executive Director, “It’s awesome when former attendees decide to run for office, get elected, and then come back as conference speakers.”
“I think this belief in equality has always been ingrained in me,” she says. “Women deserve a face and we deserve to have influence and positions of leadership because our experiences matter and our voice matters. There are people who need to hear from us. People need to put women in those positions so that little girls can see women doing things we think only men can do.”
“Because you can’t be what you can’t see.”
Rise of the Rest is a $100,000 pitch competitions in Tulsa and OKC . If you know an entrepreneur who should be participating please share this information.
The last day to apply is February 24th.
This fund has the ability to write larger follow-on checks to companies once they are in the Revolution portfolio (from $250k to $5M). And they offer a robust suite of portfolio services from Talent Solutions, to an Experts Network, to discounted Technology & Tools.
The tours have been a great way to create visibility for companies at a local and national level so make sure to submit your application and/or share the information.
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