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Luke is an Oklahoma native and third-time startup founder whose dream is to enable everyone to reap the advantages of machine learning and AI. He has been writing software for 12 years and most recently worked at Oseberg, Inc, where he led the AI team before departing to found AnnoLab. Luke is a veteran and worked as a medical professional in the Air Force prior to discovering his love of building software.
Luke believes that the future of machine learning and AI will empower people rather than replace them.
AnnoLab automates data extraction from documents and images using our propriety software and machine learning models, creating structured data in the process. Our software can additionally speed up time-consuming document analysis and data entry tasks, often done by highly paid subject matter experts.
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Devon LaneyPresident and CEO36 Degrees North
Written by: Dennis Spielman
Coming from Birmingham, Alabama as the co-founder of Innovation Depot, one of the largest entrepreneurial support organizations in America, Devon Laney now resides in Tulsa as President and CEO of 36 Degrees North with a plan to grow entrepreneurs in the Tulsa region. Known as Tulsa’s base camp for entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups, 36 Degrees North is an entrepreneurial support organization focused on providing the resources, the community, and the programs needed to support entrepreneurs as they build, grow and scale businesses.
“When I got in Tulsa, we had two locations,” said Devon Laney. “We had about a 12,000 square foot co-working space, and then we had about an 8,000 square foot hybrid of co-working and small office space. I got here, and we put together a five-year plan and began to think about what we were going to be down the road.”
The first piece of that plan involved building and launching a large technology incubator focused on supporting early-stage technology startup companies and companies making a technology product or service that they can scale and grow and raise capital. In September 2021, 36 Degrees North opened its 50,000 square foot high-tech incubator.
While co-working spaces are an essential piece of the ecosystem, Laney said it’s not the only thing one should have in an ecosystem. While co-working is excellent for individuals, co-working spaces aren’t conducive to people trying to grow a business.
“An incubator is built for growing businesses, to support growing businesses,” said Laney. “It’s not just about one individual membership, and I’m going to charge you every time you have a new member. It’s about, this company applied, we accepted them into the program, and this company is going to pay for an office, and the office is $1,000 a month, as an example. And I don’t care how many people you put in that office. I don’t care if you put two people or seven people. It’s the same price. It’s $1,000, and that $1,000 covers utilities, internet, janitorial, security, conference rooms, phone booths, Zoom rooms, all our programming, all our workshops, all our mentors, all the different things. And the company then, as an entrepreneur, the company doesn’t have to worry about, ‘Well, if I hire two more people, my monthly bill’s going to be higher.’ They don’t have to worry about that. They can focus on growing their business and know that it’s all-inclusive, all the spaces are furnished, and it’s built to support them as they’re growing their businesses.”
On the subject of economic development, Laney said that historically everybody thinks of economic development as two things: recruitment and retention. Laney cited the example of Oklahoma trying to get Tesla to come to the state. The second way most communities have done economic development is through retention. Groups work to retain the businesses that are already in Oklahoma and keep them from going somewhere else.
“I think there’s a third,” said Laney. “I’m a big believer in the third, which is let’s grow new businesses. Let’s make sure we’re supporting the growth of new industries and new businesses here. We don’t just have to recruit them here; let’s grow them here. But it requires the same kind of investment in terms of infrastructure, resources, workforce, capital, tax incentives, all those same things.”
Laney clarified that we should continue the other two ways and add the third piece to support the growth of new businesses.
Devon Laney will be speaking at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, November 10, 2021. The event will be open to guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. Laney is excited for the opportunity to be able to share a success story from a community perspective.
“36 Degrees North is a non-profit, 501C3, and it would not exist without the public and the private partnership together,” said Laney. “In 2017, when 36 Degrees North launched, you had philanthropic community, public, private, chamber. They all came together to create this thing, and it’s a success story. It’s a win, and that’s what has enabled us to even evolve and to think about what we’re going to be in five years from now. If they hadn’t been successful at doing that, we wouldn’t be in a position to think about how to evolve it and be better and bigger going forward. So I love the opportunity to share about a success from a public-private partnership.”
Register now for the event to learn more from Devon Laney and to connect with other Oklahoma entrepreneurs.
OVF Member Highlight
Oklahoma National Stockyards
Kelli Payne is a proud fifth generation farmer and rancher from Mustang, Oklahoma. She attended high school at Amber-Pocasset and went to college at Oklahoma State University. Choosing a random path through college, she took advantage of a number of internships in the agriculture industry and served on the OSU Dairy Judging Team. Additionally, she served on a number of student organizations and committees which allowed her to take advantage of learning opportunities throughout the United States. An avid reader, she jokes she is a lifelong learner as it took her over fourteen years to get her bachelor’s degree in Animal Science. She was named a top ten Senior in Animal Science her final year of college.
She has had the opportunity to serve as an assistant to former Congressman Wes Watkins prior to his retirement and to serve as an Executive Director for a number of Main Street organizations in Oklahoma. This experience has instilled a passion for both tourism and economic development. Combining her dedication for promoting the agricultural industry and her current position as President for the Oklahoma National Stockyards, she strives to share her personal story along with the wonderful heritage of agriculture’s role in Oklahoma City’s history. Payne is the first female to hold the position of President, and only the sixth person in the history of the Stockyards.
Kelli is very active in her community serving as President of the Stockyards City Main Street Association, District Director for the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, member of Oklahoma Cattlewomen’s Association, Cattlemen’s Leadership Academy Class XXVI, Fundraising Coordinator for West OKC Rotary Club, Ag In The Classroom Advisory Council Member, Stockyards Urban Design Committee Member, and was awarded the Hometown Heroes Award from the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2019. Kelli served on the steering committee to fund the David Jones Dairy Judging Team Endowed Scholarship at OSU and she and her partner Dave funded the first ever Veterans in Agriculture Scholarship for a master’s Student at OSU. Kelli was a recipient of the Oklahoma State University Ferguson College of Agriculture Early Career Achievement Award in 2020.
Attend OVF Power Lunch: November
Moore Norman Technology Center
Workforce & Economic Development Coordinator and OVF Chairman
Devon Laney, CEO for 36 Degrees North, Tulsa’s basecamp for entrepreneurs will share all the latest about Tulsa Entrepreneurship!
Spoiler alert: The City of Tulsa and 36 Degrees North recently unveiled their new technology incubator on the 5th floor of City Hall.
It’s 50,000 square feet of space filled with chairs, desks and meeting areas for new companies and technology startups. At capacity, they expect this new space to house about 30 businesses. It’s not just space, this program provides flexibility, resources, and the accountability entrepreneurs need to grow startup companies. Laney believes this is a first of its kind partnership with a municipality.
36 Degrees north has generated more than $375 million dollars in economic impact in the past four years and have created more than 1,500 new jobs.
Please plan to join us for lunch and learn more about what’s going on in Tulsa! Think about your best contacts who are Funders, Founders and associated service providers who can benefit from this presentation and invite them to join you for lunch as your guest – reach out to Che’ if you have questions about how to make the guest part happen – she will make it easy to get them registered!
This is the healthcare solution that will make you the hero – lower employer costs while simultaneously improving the benefits. And you don’t even need to wait for open enrollment to add the power of ZERO to your client’s benefits program.
ZERO works with self-funded employers (the customer) to help match health plan members up with the highest-quality, most affordable providers (the feature set) giving members access to care for $0, helping employers make smarter buying decisions and lower costs 45% (the value prop). ZERO makes money by charging employers a simple, and transparent, transaction fee each time they process a payment to a healthcare provider (the business model).
Acorn Growth Companies
Written by: Dennis Spielman
Rick Nagel is the Managing Partner of Acorn Growth Companies. This small middle-market private equity firm focuses exclusively on ladder stage and growth investments in the aerospace, defense, and intelligence sectors. The company has been around since 2000, starting as the first privately certified incubator in the state of Oklahoma. After 30 deals and on their fifth fund, the firm seeks opportunities to add value as an operating team.
“We look at 250 deals a year,” said Rick Nagel. “We do about two or three. So, we’re very picky. We invest mostly in North America and Europe.”
To boil down the selection process, Nagel explained that they focus on their strengths. Some deals are fast nos, and they get to a no quicker than they get to a yes. One of the critical filters is that they have to add value to the company.
“For us, and not every firm is like this, but for us, we want one plus one to equal seven,” said Nagel. “We’ve been driving historical performance since our internal rate of return really kind of, since the beginning on all of our platform exits, is track more than 30%.”
To maintain their high-performance level, they do this by not overpaying for anything and adding value after the close. This philosophy helps mitigate risk and drive more organic growth opportunities.
“We’ve got a lot to say grace over, so we don’t have that problem,” said Nagel. “It doesn’t mean we always get it right, but we have a pretty good batting average so far.”
Nagel advised those looking for funding to have their head screwed on straight on value and terms when making themselves look suitable for potential investors. People also need to be realistic going in on a deal. There’s a lot of great technology that never gets the funding behind it because the entrepreneurs are just too proud of it. Rick made the analogy of having a big percentage of a small pie or having a small percentage of a massive pie, which leads to having more pie on your plate.
“As much as we looked at bringing on value-added partners, I think it’s important that entrepreneurs looking for capital equally go out and find value-added partners,” said Nagel. “It’s amazing to me what they’ll do and give up to people to get a deal done. They have no value at all in helping them drive to their end results. So, you want investors that are not just passive. Typically, the younger the company is, you want more hands-on deck. I always encourage people to do value-added capital.”
Rick Nagel will be speaking at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, October 13, 2021. The event will be open to guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. Nagel said OVF is great for entrepreneurs and potential investors.
“My advice to anybody that might be reading this that’s not currently engaged would be to get engaged,” said Nagel. “If you’re an early-stage investor, whether you do a deal or not, you’ll see things that will make you smarter in that process by listening to these presentations.”
Register now for the event to learn more from Rick Nagel and to connect with other Oklahoma entrepreneurs.
Watkins-Conti Products, Inc.
Allison Watkins-Conti is a recognized leader, advisor and speaker. Raised in an entrepreneurial environment, she witnessed the formation and creation of sustainable businesses and has experience in many facets of business management. In 2015, Allison conceived the solution for an issue that affects an estimated ONE in THREE women, worldwide. She designed, patented, engineered and manufactured a solution that is entering the FDA approval process. Allison has secured roughly $5M to date, created a quality management system, a contract manufacturing facility, conducted a feasibility study validating efficacy, and employs some of the top industry leaders in the United States. Allison is dedicated to the innovation and development of affordable, effective solutions for common life-altering difficulties faced in today’s environment. She was recently named among the top 20 under 40 in Business Times magazine, was recognized as a 20th Century Woman in Innovation, selected as a Top Ten Inspirational Woman in Disrupt Magazine and been named the Journal Records Achievers under 40. Her company, Watkins-Conti Products, Inc was recognized as "Most Promising New Venture" award w/ Oklahoma Venture Forum for 2021. Most recently, Allison is being recognized Oct 2021 as one of 50 women leaders making a difference.
Attend OVF Power Lunch: OCT
Hello & welcome, we are preparing for our second Power Lunch meeting of the 2021-2022 Year.
Aerospace is currently the second leading industry in Oklahoma with a 44-billion-dollar economic impact.
Oklahoma ranks #10 in the nation when combining both public & private sector aviation and aerospace employment.
Our main speaker, Rick Nagel, managing partner of Acorn Growth Companies has spent 10 plus years investing in this space.
You will not want to miss Rick’s perspective on the current state of Aerospace in Oklahoma as well as what is unfolding!
James Millaway with Zero Health is our pitch presenter & was one of the OVF Awards finalist last year. He has developed proprietary software, is generating revenue, growing, with a unique business model. This will be very useful information!
Please check your personal contacts, invite a Founder, Funder or Associated Service provider who would make a great OVF member to be your guest at the next power lunch.
Let’s Grow this Thing!
Melissa Houston, Making Legislation Work for Businesses
by Dennis Spielman
With over 20 years of experience, Melissa Huston has made a career in public service in various roles. She has recently served as the Oklahoma Labor Commissioner, Secretary for Education and Workforce Development, and previously as Chief of Staff for the Oklahoma Attorney General and the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security. She’s worked under four governors, both Democrat and Republican, and has been referred to as the Swiss army knife of public policy.
“I’ve had some really interesting positions,” said Melissa Huston, founder and principal for 929 Strategies. “And everyone, I didn’t know anything about when I walked into it. It’s not like you go to law school to go into Homeland Security. It didn’t exist then. So as I was finishing my term as labor commissioner, I was trying to figure out what I was doing next. I knew I wanted to stay in public policy. I really enjoy finding solutions to complex public policy issues that are facing the state of Oklahoma. Ended up starting at 929 Strategies.”
The mission of 929 Strategies is to help businesses and governments navigate complex public policy issues. Houston elaborated her job ranges to finding growth opportunities, solving a regulatory environment challenge, or consulting in a major project. One of the projects Huston is currently assisting the legislature is on The American Rescue Plan funds and how to set up a process in the state for the legislature to assess the needs of the state following the pandemic. She has learned that it's about bringing the right people around the table and discussing and brainstorming solutions.
"You'll find that we have a lot more in common than we have differences," said Houston. "And that's what our company does. We try and bring together different sides of the equation, brainstorm some solutions, and then hopefully help to make those solutions a reality. That's what we're doing in the entrepreneurship space and for several other of our clients."
An example Houston shared was during her time as labor commissioner, and they regulated amusement rides. To do this, she sat down with members of the business community and the state's inspectors, and learned how the regulation worked for them. Both the parties had a common goal of providing a safe experience. They were able to come together to find a solution to protect the public without having unnecessary or burdensome regulation in a way that made sense. Oklahoma became a model for the rest of the country on how to regulate amusement rides. Houston said when you have practical solutions and you can get bureaucracy out of the way, you can really unleash the creativity in Oklahoma to address some of the challenges that we have as a state.
“As far as entrepreneurship is concerned, I am very passionate about entrepreneurship in Oklahoma,” said Houston. “People in Oklahoma are very resilient. They’re very innovative. They’re pioneering. They’re let’s figure it out, let’s roll up our sleeves and figure it out and let’s help one another to get there. Those skills are the same skills of an entrepreneur, of a successful entrepreneur. So how is it in the state of Oklahoma that we aren’t leading the country in startups?”
Houston has been trying to solve that problem for the department of commerce. To have a thriving entrepreneur ecosystem, Huston said two things are needed simultaneously: founders and funders.
“If you talk to the funders, they will say, there’s not enough deal flow,” said Houston. “But if you talk to the founders, they will say, there’s not enough capital. You’ve got to be addressing both sides of that equation simultaneously, and both of them have different issues. From a founder’s standpoint, it’s about creating an environment in the state of Oklahoma that encourages innovation, that supports mentorship. Oklahomans are always willing to help their neighbor and willing to help one another, but how do you make those connections? Especially if that’s not the world that you’re living in.”
On the funder side of things, Houston said it’s a similar situation with issues like connecting funders with the founders that have an idea that’s ready for investment and educating funders in the entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“We have a lot of investors in energy and in oil and gas, which is a very risky investment, but those investors understand that market,” Houston said. “They understand if you invest in a well, how many times the well isn’t going to hit and that’s okay, that’s part of the market. Houston compared technology startups. For every ten you invest in, maybe there are three that will take off and hit. And so, they have that risk tolerance, but how do you educate them and translate that skill set into something like technology startups?”
Houston noted that Oklahoma already has an incredible network of resource providers across Oklahoma, with more to come. The state has several accelerators across the metros, both in Oklahoma City and in Tulsa. The pandemic has also pushed to make tools and resources more accessible by bringing them online.
“Our universities are doing a great job of nurturing those ideas and helping our founders to start thinking about how to take those ideas to market,” said Houston. “We have a very robust SBDC network across the state of Oklahoma for businesses who are first starting and need help with business 101. So it’s a really exciting time to be in Oklahoma. I think that resource provider network is strong and getting stronger every day.”
Melissa Houston will be speaking at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, September 8, 2021. The event will be open to guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. Houston said organizations like the Venture Forum create opportunities for like-minded people committed to growing this ecosystem to find ways to connect and network. Be sure to register for the event to learn what legislation and programs are in the works to help founders and funders and connect with other Oklahoma entrepreneurs.
Want to know more about significant legislative and funding decisions that positively impact the entrepreneurial ecosystem?
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Tom Leydorf, Chief Strategy Officer, Chickasaw Nation Industries, Inc.
Mr. Leydorf is an experienced executive who has successfully led diverse teams for the federal government and private companies. As Chief Strategy Officer at Chickasaw Nation Industries, Inc, he is responsible for overall corporate strategy, mergers and acquisitions, and CNI’s market intelligence program. Previously, he served for 15 years in the U.S. intelligence community and later as the executive director and research director of a private research institution. Mr. Leydorf graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and political science. He also holds Masters of Arts degrees in theology and international relations and is all-but-dissertation (ABD) toward a PhD in world affairs.
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