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A New Golden Age For Oklahoma Business?
We just might be living in one of the most exciting and transformative times in Oklahoma's economic development history. Many positive signs point to this being a new golden age of business in our state. Our proverbial ducks are lining up in a row.
It's been said for years and years that Oklahoma was missing key elements to be a true entrepreneurial hotbed. In true chicken/egg fashion, Oklahoma didn't seem to have enough funding sources and/or investable startups to support "serious" venture capital action from outside the state.
But what about local money? What were successful Oklahomans doing with all of the profits from energy (oil/gas) or other traditional midwestern business profits? They were investing in more oil/gas or real estate but not tech, biomedical or anything radically new or disruptive.
This is not the case today. Right now, in this potential new golden age of business, the Oklahoma business community has increased funding sources, changed attitudes about how/what business types to invest in and created a wide field of potential startups, partnerships and investable businesses. This was the vision of the Oklahoma Venture Forum founders back in the 80's. Today, we're seeing that groundwork, follow-though and continual pushing in the right direction pay off hard-earned dividends.
In this golden age, we have a variety of funding source options. Traditional lenders, angel investors, venture capital and public/private partnerships supplemented with online resources such as crowdsourcing, sweat equity partnership and micro-loans. We also have an entrepreneur support system of incubators, accellorators, co-working, professional groups, networking opportunities, business plan competitions and recognition events like the OVF Venture Of The Year / Most Promising New Business (shameless plug).
We also had to make changes. We had to inform and educate each other. We had to change laws and regulations. We had to get outside of traditional comfort zones. We had to experiment and fail - so we could learn and improve. We had to create opportunities where there previously were none. We had to reward those who took a risk and celebrate the attempt, not just successful outcomes.
Now, we have success stories. It's one of the biggest indicators we're on the right track and a big part of building even more success in the future. We have watched startups evolve into thriving businesses, reinvented failing corporations, modernized traditional sectors, solved problems no one else in the world could solve, created entirely new industries full of opportunities in our state and ultimately rewarded founders and funders with fruitful exits. Taking the risk can lead to rewards.
These are exciting times for business in Oklahoma. Is this a new golden age? Only time will tell. Like the song says: "you're doing fine Oklahoma" so let's keep it up!
A seasoned emerging markets strategist and senior executive with over three decades in corporate finance, M&As, LBOs, venture capital and entrepreneurial endeavors, Alice has direct C-Suite experience on “both sides of the table”. Her knowledge extends across multiple sectors domestically and globally, with immersion and industry expertise in telecommunications and media, emerging technologies and online web-based platforms.
As CEO of a diversified investment holding company in Phnom Penh, Alice helped introduce automotive and hospitality global brands to Cambodia and opened market access for several of her private sector consulting clients to Laos and Myanmar. Alice has mentored entrepreneurial teams in Asia and the U.S. inspiring them to develop sustainable solutions and strategic alternatives to expand capacity, leverage existing resources, align core competencies and drive scalable growth trajectories to meet investor expectations.
Managing Partner of a newly formed state-wide Oklahoma early stage fund, Cortado Ventures, Alice was appointed to the Oklahoma Venture Advisory Council, where she serves on its Capital Access and Investor Relations Working Group.
A team mentor with Oklahoma Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program (OKEMP), she is a member of Leadership Oklahoma Class XII, served on Governor Frank Keating’s Task Force on Capital Formation, as director/officer of OVF and on the Oklahoma Business Finance Committee of Oklahoma Technology Development Corporation (now i2E).
Alice also is an Executive Partner with Magellan, a strategic leadership consultancy in Oklahoma City. Alice holds a BA in Politics/Economics from Boston University and an MBA in Finance and Corporate Strategy with High Distinction from Babson’s Franklin W. Olin Graduate School of Business. An avid traveler, Alice delights in discoveries near and far!
Mimosa Health was established in May 2017 with a mission to provide expert advice on the use of medications by older adults. We have specialized knowledge in geriatrics and the unique medication-related needs of the senior population. We help seniors reduce medication-related problems, reduce healthcare costs, and improve their quality of life through our community medication education seminars and personalized senior health services.
Did you know that Douglas Sorocco, owner of Dunlap Codding in Oklahoma City, isn’t just an intellectual property attorney, PHOSITA blogger, chemist, visionary, social entrepreneur, and creator of DC on Film Row? He’s also one of the volunteer co-directors of the new Oklahoma Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program (OKEMP). Modeled after MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service (MIT VMS), OKEMP matches an entrepreneur with a team of unbiased, experienced mentors.
“Entrepreneurs always talk about needing a pitch deck,” says Mr. Sorocco, “but I want them to know the story they’re teaching in that deck. I tell them, ‘Print it out. Use a highlighter. Draw it up.’”
With a fountain pen in one hand and a Moleskine® in the other, Sorocco does just that. “My best ideas begin with doodling on paper,” he says. “I’m a chemist, so I love process flow.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Sorocco relishes the process inherent in the OKEMP model. He calls it “a longitudinal kind of support.”
“This type of commitment is what’s been missing in Oklahoma,” he says. “OKEMP provides mentoring teams who follow entrepreneurs throughout their whole career. Because true entrepreneurs don’t stop with just one idea.”
But when Sorocco came to Oklahoma 23 years ago, he soon noticed what wasn’t missing: “There’s a character trait here that you can do anything and your failures don’t follow you,” says the businessman and world traveler. “I have a lot of clients in Germany, and they love the idea of the West, the musical Oklahoma, the
prairie. When they meet me, they act like I’m a rock star or a mythical type figure.”
“I have to explain to them, ‘No, it’s just kind of a normal thing. We try new things, but if it doesn’t work out that doesn’t mean we can’t try again.’”
That type of innovation is apparent with OKEMP’s inaugural group of five entrepreneurs. Ideas with potential for positive social impact are well represented: Actovos, created by ittybam, seeks to streamline the connection between child welfare workers and possible foster parents. Another company, ITOT, already has a prototype for a handgun trigger lock that is biometrical and practical.
“One of the beauties of the program is that, no matter where the entrepreneurs are in their life cycle, they’re getting matched up with mentors who can offer unbiased, unconflicted advice.”
What mentors also offer is access to their experiences as successful entrepreneurs, delivered during regularly scheduled 90 minute meetings. “There is a curriculum,” explains Sorocco, “but it is driven by the entrepreneurs who are coming with questions and concerns.”
“For example, the first entrepreneur may already have a prototype without ever looking at markets. So it’s backwards! So the mentor helps identify who’s going to buy the product. Whereas the second entrepreneur may be a programmer who’s never sold anything. So the mentoring team teaches how to develop relationships that don’t seem too transactional.”
“What I love most about the MIT VMS Program,” says Attorney Sorocco, “is that it uses the venture as a tool to build up the entrepreneur.”
“Most entrepreneurs are going to fail with their first or second company. What we need for them to do is learn along the way so that when they get to number three or four, they’re more likely to succeed.”
Spoken like a true rock star, Mr. Sorocco. No myth about it.
Admit it, how many times have you heard this: “You can’t do that in Oklahoma. There isn’t the infrastructure, talent, funding, experience, etc…. in Oklahoma.“ If you have lived in our great state for more than a week, then you have heard at least one version of this myth.
If you’re like me, proving these misguided theories wrong is greatly satisfying. Prime examples of this are the two businesses we learned more about at our October meeting: CareATC and ePathScreen.
CareATC is very successfully disrupting the behemoth employee healthcare insurance industry. A truly impressive feat, which earned the founders and CEO Phil Kurtz a massive payout for sale of 85% of the company. Kurtz background and experience are on par with anyone in the country (or world). Partnering with I2E was just one of the many great ideas Kurtz brought to CareATC as CEO.
Our Pitch Presenters ePathScreen are tackling cancer diagnosis via better imaging software. There is great potential for this Oklahoma company to help medical professionals save lives in the future. How exciting is that?
As members of the Oklahoma Venture Forum, we know these misconceptions about business in our state are just simply not true. OVF is on the front lines of pushing back on outdated ideas of that a business can only be successful when launched or operated on the East Coast or in Silicone Valley. In fact, the trend we’re seeing today is Oklahoma is prime to become the “Silicone Valley of the Midwest” thanks to the talents, collaboration and successes of Oklahoma companies, business leaders and investors.
Working together is more important than ever. We have everything we need right here, right now. Every time you attend an OVF event, look around the room at the members, guest and speakers. Everything an Oklahoma business would need - from Startups to International Corporations - is right there, available to all of us. Let’s get to work making Oklahoma a Top 10 state for business success.
Rebecca has a passion for helping individuals and organization achieve personal and professional excellence. Her role as Executive Director, Business & Industry Services at Meridian Technology Center gives her just that opportunity. Working with customized training, short-term adult education and entrepreneurial services, she and her team work to develop and deliver customize training and services for individuals to start-up companies to seasoned large employers.
Prior to joining Meridian in 2009, she was a clinical professor in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Oklahoma State University. She has over 25 years of experience in the lodging industry working in operations, organizational development, and training with organizations such as American General Hospitality, Inc., Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, and the five-star, five-diamond Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
Rebecca received a Bachelors degree in Hotel and Restaurant Administration from Oklahoma State University, a Masters in Human Relations from the University of Oklahoma and her PhD in Human Sciences from Oklahoma State University.
She and her husband, Kyle, have been residents of Stillwater for over 12 years. They enjoy spending time travelling and participating in community and OSU events. Her civic involvement includes serving on the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce Board, Stillwater CARES Board, and the Advisory Board for the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. She and Kyle are also active in Sunnybrook Christian Church. Outside of Stillwater, Rebecca serves on the Board for the Oklahoma Hotel & Lodging Association and the Advisory Board for the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois.
Rob Reynolds, Executive Director at TEL Library
After earning his Ph.D. in Spanish at the University of Texas at Austin, Rob Reynolds began his career as a university faculty member teaching languages and literature. He has also served in university administration, as a textbook publishing executive, and as a co-founder and/or leader of multiple educational technology startups. He has additional experience as a textbook author and has been an active researcher and blogger in the learning technology space since 2003. He is the author of The Future of Learning Content and currently serves as Executive Director of TEL Library, a non-profit, public library dedicated to providing affordable learning to anyone, anywhere. For the past 20 years, Rob’s career has been focused on content design and management for education. ● In the late 90s, he was designing and authoring innovative, narrative-based learning experiences for major language publishers (Prentice Hall and Heinle and Heinle), with the goal of integrating higher levels of instruction and user experience into learning content. ● Later, as Director of Information at the University of Oklahoma, he helped move the university’s general education courses online and, as part of the process, worked to redesign course structures and content management processes to make online learning more effective and cost-efficient. ● In 2004, Rob co-founded Xplana Learning in Boston. As part of his work there, he developed the company’s information science division to help publishers normalize information structures for creating and managing their content. He also designed and led the development of a content management system for publisher assets. ● As Vice President of Digital Solutions for Cengage, he oversaw the development of taxonomic structures for academic units to support efficient tagging and reuse of digital assets and custom publishing. ● At MBS Direct Rob oversaw the design and development of digital content solutions for that company’s ambitious content management and digital publishing platform, Xplana.com. ● Today, as Executive Director at TEL Library, Rob continues to innovate content management and publishing with a goal of making high-quality education affordable and easily accessible for everyone, everywhere. He is currently building a library of high-quality, low-cost learning content that can be repurposed and distributed quickly and efficiently across multiple product types and markets. In the next phase, TEL Library’s long-term goal is to leverage its structured data framework and make its structured content available to third-party AI systems to make high-quality, affordable education accessible worldwide.
How does an Oklahoma organization anticipate its 90th birthday? In the case of the Better Business Bureau of Central Oklahoma, it stays true to the core values established in 1930 while continually adapting its services to the business community. “Transparency is one of the core values of our business,” says Kitt Letcher, the CEO and President of the Bureau. “And our standards of trust must be met before a business can earn BBB accreditation. But we’re also really trying to transform our image to business owners.”
Transparency may be the best known characteristic of the BBB model: “The bbb.org website is a free resource that absolutely anybody can use,” says the CEO. “Consumers can look up businesses and know that both positive and negative reviews are actually vetted by our organization. The business owner sees and can respond to the reviews.”
But posting such comments online is only the beginning. “Out of negative experiences is where most of our opportunity lies,” says Ms. Letcher. “That’s as true when we receive negative feedback about the BBB as it is when any other business fields a complaint.”
So how does CEO Letcher define opportunity? “When we look at records from businesses receiving more than 3 complaints a year, we may see a pattern. If we feel like we can help, we reach out to the business and offer solutions.”
Sometimes, though, the businesses are the ones reaching out to the BBB. “When I came on board in 2013,” says Letcher, “one of the biggest things I heard from businesses was, ‘I get accredited; I get a bill; I pay the money, then I never hear from you again.’”
“That’s not what we want,” she says. So the CEO looked at the core value of trust and transformed it into something bigger.
“We started offering Trust Talks™ this past April,” she says. “We survey our business owners and then find special speakers to address areas of concern. Coming up, we will do 2020 Planning.”
Letcher has already done her planning for next year. In 2020 she and her team will launch a peer program and an ambassador program.
“I’m super excited about these programs,” she says. “With the peer program, we pull together eight to ten business owners and put them in a group.”
The day of the peer program will begin with a specially designed curriculum to address specific small business issues. The afternoon will include a round table discussion.
“Because this will be a confidential setting, business owners will be able to bring to the table an issue they’re currently working on. Then someone else in the group might say, ‘This is how I solved that problem.’ Keep in mind that that advice is not a theoretical statement; it’s coming from experience.”
For businesses in far flung parts of Oklahoma, Kitt offers an alternative program. “We cover about 70% of the state,” she says, “but it’s difficult for us to have a physical presence in all the communities where we have accredited businesses.”
“Next year, host businesses in places like Ada, Shawnee, Stillwater and Guymon will begin offering monthly meetings for other accredited businesses in their area.”
“There will be at least one tangible takeaway from each meeting, whether it’s the best way to respond to a complaint or how to increase customer reviews. It will also be a networking opportunity.”
“We’re really trying to transform our image to business owners. We want them to see us as a resource for helping and/or stabilizing their businesses.”
Earlier this month OVF hosted Philip kurtz with CareATC and LB Dahle with ePathScreens.
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Host Organization: Oklahoma Venture Forum
Event title: OVF Power Lunch "The Exit Strategy"
Event type: Success Speaker & Pitch Presentation
Event date & time: October 9th, 11:30 am-1:00 pm
Link to registration: Attend
Host Organization: Moore Norman Technology Center
Event title: 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity
Event type: Lunch & Learn
Event date & time: 7 Nov 1130A -130P
Link to registration: https://enrollment.mntc.edu/short-term-classes/lunch-learn-franklin-coveys-5-choices-extraordinary-productivity
Event title: OVF Power Lunch Local Business & Education Technology
Event date & time: November 13th, 11:30 am-1:00 pm
Host Organization: Moore Norman Technology Center (South Penn Campus)
Event title: Franklin Covey’s 5 Choices to Extraordinary Productivity: One Day Essentials
Event type: Workshop
Event date & time: Friday November 15, 2019 830A – 400P
Link to registration: https://enrollment.mntc.edu/short-term-classes/franklin-coveys-5-choices-extraordinary-productive-one-day-essentials
Event title: OVF After Hours
Event type: Networking & Presentation
Event date & time: Nov. 21, 2019 from 5:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Link to registration: LINK
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