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Growing Through Acquisitions
Written by Dennis Spielman
Kris Murray’s entrepreneurial journey began in college when a friend suggested they should start a web development company. While in high school and college, Murray was interested in web development, video production, graphic design, and how to code, but throughout most of his college career, he was a biology major. Before making a significant life pivot, Murray had some terms.
“I was like, ‘Sure, we’ll start a company if you secure the first client,’” said Kris Murray. “And essentially, I threw some numbers at him, like, ‘If you can kind of guarantee that both of us will make X amount of money for the first year, I’ll jump in this crazy idea with you,’ and like two weeks later; he had all the stuff secured. He had sold to different people and secured a lump sum of money and a retainer covering our living expenses.”
As time progressed, Murray’s original business partner wanted to exit, so Murray bought him out and then merged with a friend’s video production company, where they were outsourcing all of their video work. They joined forces and created a new brand called Spark.
“At the time, people’s choices were to hire an ad agency, where typical ad agencies had not kind of caught up with the changes of digital media, so they were billing high hourly rates and didn’t really know how to engage new media, or hire a person internally and have to pay their salary, pay for their equipment, pay for their health insurance, and stuff like that,” said Murray. “We were the no-brainer choice because we were cheaper than both options available to them, and it was like, hey, if we hate these guys, we can fire them because they’re essentially a contractor, and we can move in a different direction. So again, we saw pretty quick success with that. I think our goal was to get like 20 clients, and we met that goal within two weeks.”
With Spark, Murray loved they were helping solve unique problems for people. He found companies would be great at providing their goods and services to people, but they didn’t know how to connect with potential customers, and that’s where Spark excelled.
“We had a client early on say essentially we were the best investment they had ever made in marketing, and that was like a big moment for me,” said Murray. “When I started realizing that people see us as an investment, this is a partnership, this isn’t a typical contract engagement, and this isn’t a service. They feel like we are jointly moving towards their shared success.”
Murray knew Spark’s next phase of growth would be through acquisitions. Their first acquisition was Scissortail Media. Murray admired the company’s high-end impactful work. Through circumstances, the owner of Scissortail Media had started a virtual reality software platform and was looking to pursue that avenue. The creative and storytelling aspect of video production was an area Spark needed to grow, so they acquired them to get the talent, equipment, and proprietary story craft process.
“We did an acqui-hire, where we hired all the staff,” said Murray. “Whatever Scissortail Media’s best year was, we doubled that in the first year of our acquisition. We gave all the staff a raise, we kept everybody on through the transition, and we carried that through with our future acquisitions, is we always tried to retain the entire team.”
For the following acquisitions, they used the Traction system, an entrepreneurial operating system, to help explore core values, systems, processes, and what is needed to get to the next phase. Murray identified Casey Cornett with Cornett Marketing and later Studio Flight.
“With all of our acquisitions, we always did cash deals, where we never got into debt because of acquisitions,” said Murray. “I wanted to have an agency that was working citywide, statewide, nationally, globally, and by the time we consolidated the brands and everything, we had great local clients, we had great statewide clients, we had great national clients, and we had great global clients. In all service areas that we were a part of, we were, in some ways top of that, working with top-tier clients. We were getting top-tier clients to work with us, so it was the completion of the original vision.”
Kris Murray will speak to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, October 12, 2022. The event will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM.
“My advice would be a lot of people think that they need seed capital to get started, and for some things, you do need seed capital, but I would encourage people to market test their idea and do as much as they can to bootstrap whatever product or service they’re doing, and then once they have marketed tested their service or product, and they have a good idea of what the demand will be, then if they need capital, do growth capital,” said Murray. “We never did any kind of investment, so we bootstrapped everything. Honestly, I’ve got friends that have done capital rounds, saying, ‘I wish we had bootstrapped things,’ because one thing that capital does is it accelerates all of your problems. Money accelerates everything, so if things are going good, it accelerates things, but if things are not figured out or going well, it can run you off a cliff pretty fast.”
Register here to attend the October 12th Power Lunch
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Pinkey PatelFounder and CEO
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Wow! That is the best word I can think of to describe the energy and momentum that continues here in Oklahoma surrounding innovation and entrepreneurship. With the recent EDA Build Back Better Regional Challenge announcements, Oklahoma was only one of two states to receive news that two separate projects were award funding. These two projects were the direct result of collaborative work by many, many, organizations, all working together to toward build strong regional economies and spur economic growth. Many of our OVF members and supporters were part of these efforts and to each of you, we say thank you!
The excitement of the announcements carried over into our first OVF Power Lunch of the season. Our speakers entered a room alive with enthusiasm and excitement. Their presentations showed how founders here in Oklahoma are tackling large challenges and can impact almost everyone. Our October event will provide different perspective on starting a business when Kris Murray, joins us to talk on business exits and how to build and consolidate brands. We will also welcome pitch presenter, Brent Smith, with Firefly Energy Services, to talk about their new gas and liquid storage solutions.
We look forward to seeing you at the October OVF Power Lunch. We encourage you to invite a guest that might like to experience all that OVF has to offer!
OVF Chair, 2022-2023
Creating a Flow for Innovation
by Dennis Spielman
Ryan Coe has been in the oil and gas industry his entire life, the fifth generation in his family line. Where Coe is now in energy was not the path he expected for himself. Straight out of college, he went to work at Chesapeake.
“I got comfortable with mashing together data sets and applying them towards my specific discipline, which was land, and that not only gave a ton of support to our land team to be able to be more efficient, but it also really sparked a massive passion that I had no idea that I possessed until this opportunity came along,” said Ryan Coe. “It gave me the ability to provide creative problem-solving into my day-to-day routine, and it’s what’s been driving me since that moment. I’ve been incorporating technology into most of the things I do regularly here at Flogistix, and it’s been a wild ride, frustrating, but I love it.”
Coe is now the Corporate Product Manager at Flogistix. Primarily, Flogistix is a compression service company that’s incorporated innovative technology to optimize its fleet and the runtime and efficiency of its operators. His role includes reviewing Flogistix’s products and seeing, from an industry expert perspective, where’s the application, what should be changed, what shouldn’t be changed, and helping facilitate the best development and product fit they can achieve.
For companies looking to advance and innovate with technology, Coe said the best thing they can do is create an environment where their employees feel comfortable and are not afraid to ask questions.
“They’re not afraid to come up with those weird ideas that they may be concerned, “What is the person next to me going to think about it if I say, ‘Oh, this is a way to solve a problem,’ and it’s just off the wall crazy?” I have always encouraged people when they have an idea, talk about it, bring it up,” said Coe. “If you’re doing something monotonous or repetitive and you think there’s a better way to do something, there probably is a better way to do something.”
Coe also added that people should be confident in the value they add to your company because not letting people think and express their thoughts and creativity hampers the organization. See what you can solve using technology versus, “Let’s just continue to do it the same way because we’re afraid to learn something new.”
With the EPA’s concern about fugitive emissions, the next facet for Flogistix is trying to answer and solve some of those problems because it’s massive. Thousands of wells are outdated, so they’re some of the biggest emitters.
“It’s a much bigger problem than people realize, but we are incredibly confident that we know how to address it,” said Coe. “We’re always developing new solutions to make things more efficient on our end and the customer side. I have no idea where the next step is, but I know that it will be in the energy space, and I know that it will involve technology and creativity.”
Ryan Coe will speak to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, September 22, 2022. Coe was introduced to OVF last year, and while he initially didn’t know what to think of the forum, he’s come to see OVF as a great way to build a network of companies looking out for each other. The event will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM.
“It’s incredibly cool to bring some of these smaller organizations together that are all kind of fighting a common battle, trying to get established, trying to figure out what to do to give themselves an advantage and to be able to come together sort of as a consortium and collaborate amongst each other,” said Coe.
Register to attend September 2022 Power Lunch
Co-Founder and CEO
Saravan Kumar earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering and authored a number of journal articles. His area of expertise was bio-fluids, with specific focus on research in cardiovascular fluid dynamics, particularly related to vascular disease conditions.
Saravan co-founded MaxQ as a student startup venture while working toward his Ph.D. at Oklahoma State University and today, blood banks and hospitals across the country use the company’s solutions for the safe cold chain transport of a range of blood products.
Saravan leads the MaxQ team in conceptualizing and building next generation regulatorycompliant solutions, acquiring multi-year government research contracts, managing cross functional teams, developing and executing high growth strategies, managing product life cycle, customer success and market expansion.
Executive Director and OVF Chairwoman, 2022-2023
Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology
Welcome back OVF Partners and Members!
I think it is fair to say that both the weather and the possibilities in innovation and entrepreneurship within Oklahoma where both HOT over the summer. From the awarding of the contract to create the Henrietta B. Foster Center for Northeast Small Business and Entrepreneurship, to the signing of the MOU positioning the Oklahoma – Arkansas region as a national hub for advanced mobility, to Cortado Ventures starting the second close for their Fund II, plus many, many more announcements, this summer was packed full of exciting things for Oklahoma.
While OVF might have been on a slight break, your OVF Board of Directors were at work planning on how to provide our members with more value through great speakers and learning at the monthly Power Lunches, meaningful networking at OVF After-Hours, and looking at how to celebrate our amazing entrepreneurs at the Annual Awards Ceremony. A sneak peek at what you can look forward to this year is a great session on how to move organizations forward through technical innovation, a look at the legislative side of entrepreneurship, a success story of acquisition, and so much more! As always, you will get to hear great founder pitches from across the state.
We hope you will join us for our September 14, OVF Power Lunch as we hear from Flogistics and Bluejay Partners. We encourage you to invite a guest to the OVF Power Lunch. Your continued involvement in OVF along with helping invite others helps us continue to be the preeminent organization that fosters innovation and economic growth in Oklahoma. We are looking forward to a year that showcases the possibilities and opportunities right here in Oklahoma!
See you on September 14th!
Jennifer McGrailOVF Chair, 2022-2023
Chairman's Perspective May 2022
May is a month of celebration and recognition for the Oklahoma Venture Forum. As we mark our 35th anniversary, our annual awards luncheon will help us continue our work of championing small business and economic development through connecting and recognizing venture talents. The nominations for both the Most Promising Venture and Venture of the Year awards showcased a tremendous depth of significant innovation possible in Oklahoma. The nominations were full of founders and organizations leading significant innovation that has the possibility to impact not only Oklahoma but the world.
The awards committee had the tough job of narrowing down the nominations to the finalist you will see recognized at the awards luncheon. Additionally, OVF is proud to honor OMRF as the recipient of the 2022 Award for Economic Impact.
As innovation and possibilities of entrepreneurship grow in Oklahoma, OVF is honored to partner with two significant organizations to recognize two new award categories. These include the Oklahoma Innovative Technology Association presenting their Entrepreneurial Champion Award and the Oklahoma Business Incubator Association presenting their Incubator Tenant Award. It is partnerships and collaborations such as these which assist our members in building a better community.
I invite you to join us for the annual awards luncheon and help us celebrate this year’s award winners. Our awards luncheon will be a great opportunity for our members and guests to celebrate the successes in entrepreneurship and innovation in Oklahoma. We look forward to seeing you at the OVF Annual Awards Ceremony.
Register to Attend
Josh Merrill, Cody Dupler, and Jennifer Hankins
Opening Doors Through Collaboration
by Dennis Spielman
In honor of Oklahoma Venture Forum’s 35th anniversary, OVF Director Cody Dupler will host a fireside chat with Jennifer Hankins of Tulsa Innovation Labs and Josh Merrill of Echo Investment Capital as part of the OVF Awards ceremony. Dupler, Hankins, and Merrill will discuss the importance of collaboration for innovation in Oklahoma.
“What I love about Oklahoma Venture Forum is because it’s not just a bunch of landfill gurus that are there, a bunch of business gurus, or digital marketing gurus, or IT gurus, there is an all-encompassing board of directors and all-encompassing base of members,” said Cody Dupler, Business Development Manager for Summit Utilities. “With Summit Utilities, the company I work for now, it’s one of our pillars, for what we build our business cases on is collaboration. Because what we have found out is, as everybody’s probably aware, when you start working in these silos and don’t collaborate with these other departments, it becomes a little more stressful, a little bit more difficult to get things done.”
Jennifer Hankins, Head of Partnerships at Tulsa Innovation Labs, described herself as an economic developer by trade. The Tulsa Innovation Labs is a tech-led economic development organization tasked with spurring Tulsa’s innovation economy by investing in academic innovation, startup support and workforce, and talent development, as it aligns to those areas. Before that position, Hankins was at the Tulsa Chamber. On the subject of collaboration, Hankins said, “it’s everything we do in economic development.”
“I think the beautiful thing and what I have loved most about being in the state–I’m not from Oklahoma, I’m not a native Oklahoman–is not to be afraid,” said Hankins. “This is something I worked with our startups at, at The Forge daily, not being afraid to ask for help. Whoever you know in your network who can help you make that next call, that next move, never being afraid to ask for that because our state is a big place, but it’s also a really small place.”
Hankins added that the entrepreneurial community is willing to make that next call for you. For entrepreneurs to be successful, they have to have the ability to create relationships, ask for help, and not be afraid of saying what they need to be successful.
“I think it’s incumbent on Oklahomans to be collaborative because we can’t have a business environment where everybody kind as sharp elbows, because truthfully, if we’re self-aware and we look in the mirror, there are not enough resources here for us to be fighting over and still be successful as a state,” said Josh Merrill, Co-Managing Partner at Echo Investment Capital.
For the past 35 years, Dupler said the OVF has pulled together many different industries and many different parts of the state to get a total reflection of what the state needs. The forum has hosted influential and key leaders–not only just for Oklahoma but the nation as a whole.
“To do anything for 35 years means that you’re doing something correct,” said Dupler. “Even though I’ve been on the board kind of a short time and a member, not much longer than that, they’re really reaching out. I’m from Lawton, Oklahoma. So this isn’t just a, hey Oklahoma City clip or a Tulsa clip. This is all-encompassing from the state, from the Northeast border to the Southwest border, and everything in between.”
Jennifer Hankins, Josh Merrill, and Cody Dupler will be part of a special fireside chat at the Oklahoma History Center on May 18, 2022, from 11 am to 1:30 pm. Special guest is Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. Awards will be presented for Economic Impact, Venture of the Year, Most Promising New Venture, Entrepreneurial Champion, and Incubator Tenant of the Year.
“I cannot believe that [OVF] is already 35 years old,” said Hankins. “I was involved with OVF while I was in OKC, and I’ve seen it evolve consistently, and I think that’s great, and that’s healthy, and really exciting to see that an organization has a longevity of 35 years. That’s just incredible.”
Join OVF in Celebrating Entrepreneurism in Oklahoma
OVF Awards Guest Speakers
Featuring a fireside chat guided by OVF Director Cody Dupler of Summit Utilities in Lawton. Cody will host Jennifer Hankins from Tulsa Innovation Labs and JOsh Merrill from Echo Investment Captial in a discussion about "Collaboration for Innovation."
Guest Host | Cody Dupler
Business Manager, Peaks Renewables | Subsidiary of Summit Utilities
Summit Utilities concentrates on developing renewable natural gas, with offices in Colorado, Arkansas, Maine, and Oklahoma. Cody has led the charge in developing landfill gas projects from the company’s inception.
During his career, Cody has established a reputation of community collaboration and relationships as he has served on the Boards of the United Way of Southwest Oklahoma, the Lawton Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity, AUSA – Fires Chapter, the Young Professionals of Lawton, and the Oklahoma Venture Forum. In addition to his duties at Peaks Renewables, he is also an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Cameron University and a Major in the Oklahoma Army National Guard.
Cody has received numerous community awards, notably “Volunteer of the Year”, “Young Professional of the Year” (Lawton, OK), and the Southwest Ledger’s “Top Ten Young Professionals of SW Oklahoma”. He has a Master’s degree from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and is currently a 2nd year doctoral candidate at Liberty University. None of this could be done without the support of his Wife Danae and their five amazing children: Daelynn, Ace, Decklynn, Hayden, and Harlow.
Jennifer Hankins | Head of Partnerships | Tulsa Innovation Labs
Jennifer is a fierce advocate for innovation and entrepreneurship in the heartland of America, with extensive experience working in Tulsa and the wider region on economic development initiatives. In her role as Head of Partnerships, she is responsible for helping shape TIL’s strategic direction, mission, investments, advisory bodies, and, in particular, is responsible for securing and managing its partnerships with corporations and other entities.
Prior to joining TIL, Jennifer served in the economic development division of the Tulsa Regional Chamber as vice president of entrepreneurship and small business. In this capacity, she worked with area partners to help grow the regional entrepreneurial ecosystem, assisting local startups and small businesses remove barriers to growth and managing the Chamber’s business incubator for high-growth startups, The Forge.
Josh Merrill | Managing Partner and General Counsel | Echo Investment Capital
A native Oklahoman, Josh attended Oklahoma State University where he received his B.S. in accounting and finance. After receiving his undergraduate degree, Josh attended the University of Oklahoma College of Law where he received his J.D. Shortly after law school, Josh moved to Dallas, where he eventually became a Partner in Kirkland and Ellis, LLP’s private equity and mergers and acquisitions practice.
Throughout his career, Josh has facilitated transactions with a total deal value exceeding $20 billion. He was happy to return home to begin work as Echo Investment Capital’s General Counsel and has since expanded his duties at Echo to include a Co-Managing Partner role, where he oversees many of the organization’s verticals.
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