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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.
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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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Boddle Learning (Tulsa)
Boddle Learning helps teachers and education publishers transform learning content into interactive experiences through a gamified education platform. Boddle improves test scores by boosting student engagement through gameplay and rewards and tailors learning using artificial intelligence. In 12 months, Boddle grew from 50,000 to 1,500,000 registered students (and growing) across all 50 US States, through low cost and organic teacher outreach strategies.
The SnapBack (Norman)
Pregnancy has ample resources and is often a beautiful experience, however postpartum is isolating and does not come with a manual. The average time between delivery and the first postpartum visit is 6 weeks and 40% of women don’t make it there. The SnapBack app provides delivery specific rehab techniques, time released what to expect for the baby/mom, tracking features and an anonymous community forum; it is the only all-in-one, evidence based postpartum resource and community mother’s need. We create tech for the future, we need to create tech for moms who birth the future
MaxQ Research, LLC (Stillwater)
Through proprietary breakthroughs in material sciences and real-time predictive intelligence, MAX-Q is revolutionizing the transportation of life saving temperature-sensitive biologics and blood products, eclipsing existing methods in terms of safety, efficiency, and total value. Trusted by over 800 healthcare and life science organizations globally, MaxQ’s cold chain packaging and compliance automation solutions help predict and prevent product wastage, increase operational efficiency and enhance patient safety.
Medefy Health (Tulsa)
The Medefy app helps everyday people make expert healthcare decisions in under 60 seconds. While 84% of American employees say they struggle to afford care because of the complexities of their company health benefits, health insurance, and healthcare providers, the Medefy platform makes it easy to understand your options, navigate to low-cost, high-quality providers, and get affordable care. Users can use a variety of digital decision tools within the app, as well as in-app text communication with Medefy’s care team – live healthcare experts available 24/7 to help navigate users to care. Launched in 2018 to two employer groups, Medefy now services approx. 1200 employer groups with users in all fifty states.
2022 Award for Economic Impact
Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation
The Oklahoma Venture Forum is honored to recognize Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. In 1946, a group of Oklahoma physicians and business leaders saw the potential that biomedical research held. On Aug. 28 of that year, Oklahoma’s Secretary of State granted the charter of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
All told, 7,500 Oklahomans donated a total of $2.5 million to build laboratories and a research hospital. And what began as a two-person operation in 1946 has grown into an internationally recognized research institute.
OMRF now employs more than 450 staff members who study cancer, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, and diseases of aging. Their discoveries have yielded hundreds of patents and three life-saving drugs now available in hospitals and clinics around the world.
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Thank you recognition sponsors of the 2022 OVF Awards!Economic Impact Award | Rcognition Sponsor | STANDARDS IT
Standards IT will make your organization more profitable, more competitive, and able to do more with less. CIO to service desk starts with customer service, fixes infrastructure, conducts analytics, develops software specific to your challenges, and manages it all with governance. The board, C suite, and owners always know what is going on and have more confidence steering the organization.
Venture of the Year & Incubator Tenant | Recognition Sponsor | OKLAHOMA BUSINESS INCUBATOR ASSOCIATION
The Oklahoma Business Incubator Association prioritizes the needs of entrepreneurs and brings value to those who work side by side with early-stage businesses through incubators, accelerators, co-working spaces, and other entrepreneurial support organizations.
Most Promising New Venture | Recognition Sponsor | BBB OF CENTRAL OKLAHOMA
It is BBB’s mission to be the leader in advancing marketplace trust. They accomplish this by setting standards for marketplace trust, encouraging, and supporting best practices by engaging with and educating consumers and businesses, celebrating marketplace role models, calling out and addressing substandard marketplace behavior, creating a community of trustworthy businesses and charities
BBB sees trust as a function of two primary factors – integrity and performance. Integrity includes respect, ethics, intent, and working toward a diverse, inclusive, and equitable marketplace. Performance speaks to a business’s track record of delivering results in accordance with BBB standards and/or addressing customer concerns in a timely, satisfactory manner.
Entrepreneurial Champion Award | Recognition Sponsor | OKLAHOMA INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOY ALLIANCE
OITA was founded in 2021 and the trade association home and voice for Oklahoma HQ technology and IT companies. As technology and IT companies who choose to have our headquarters in Oklahoma, we are committed to investing in Oklahoma as we create jobs while diversifying and growing the economy. Educating policy makers and helping to lead the state’s digital transformation to Top Ten. While our members, invest, create, build and scale their technology we translate their needs and challenges to Oklahoma policy makers.
The Oklahoma Venture Forum thanks you for your support of this event.
by Dennis Spielman
Before having a career in venture capital, Kevin Moore, Aaron Webster, and Justin Wilson were pursuing other paths. Moore got a degree in engineering, Webster was a developer, and Wilson studied to be a doctor. While their career path changed, they incorporated their past knowledge into their current venture firms.
Spur Capital Partners specializes in early-stage technology and life science venture capital fund investments. Cameron Ventures is an early-stage venture fund with affiliate operating companies that serve customers across the United States, primarily in insurance, banking, and asset management. Wilson at Plains Ventures says they are sector agnostic, investing from seed to Series A in Oklahoma businesses.
Moore, a partner at Spur Capital, finds their significant diversification a positive for the company.
“The way that our model is set up, we invest in so many different companies with the right firms that we see these effects within the portfolio, where because we’re still investing at the early stages of a company’s life, we’ll see that maybe 20% of all the companies within our portfolio, they will drive about 75% of our performance,” said Kevin Moore. “That’s the power law effect you want to see in venture capital.”
Moore explained that the drawback to Spur’s business model is that some people lose all control. They decide which managers to choose, how much money to invest with each manager, and when to exit those different opportunities. The other potential issue that some people might have is that they only focus on early-stage venture capital.
Webster, Managing Director at Cameron Ventures, sees a benefit to their limited partner base.
“We get to focus on meeting entrepreneurs to focus on looking at the deal mechanics, looking at what the technologies actually do, and then backing the teams that we think are going to make some big changes in the industry,” said Aaron Webster.
Historically, Wilson, Managing Director at Plains Venture Partners, has focused on healthcare and biotech companies because Oklahoma produces outstanding companies in those fields.
“We can invest in really any industry as long as it’s a high growth opportunity with an outstanding founder, and there’s a clear path to value creation and an exit,” said Justin Wilson. “We’re open-minded and willing to dive in and understand something.”
For founders looking for investors, Moore thinks most founders discount the strength of their team.
“I think the team is critical,” said Moore. “However, I think that there’s also this notion that if the product is good enough or the market is large enough... And those things certainly have to be there, but in some of the most successful venture capital firms, what they experience and what I’ve experienced in the past is that the team is what makes the biggest difference. And you look at it as you can have a really good team with an average product that will have a higher probability of success than a great product with an average team.”
Webster advised that entrepreneurs should understand what type of fund they’re pitching to, whether generalist or vertical-specific funds.
“In general funds, you have to find the right partner to pitch to that is interested in your company and interested in your theme,” said Webster. “If you’re pitching to a vertical-specific fund, you actually have to pick the correct vertical. I get so many inbounds from founders, just cold decks to where we are not even focused in on that theme at all.”
Wilson said founders should view investors as a class of your customers.
“Think of investors as a customer and anticipate their needs and know that if you’re pitching a family office or a high net worth individual, what their needs are is likely very different than what a pure financial VC is looking for,” said Wilson. “But in the end, VC’s about value creation. And so if you can communicate that, ‘Listen, I have this really cool idea that creates real value, that solves a real problem for my customers,’ investors are going to find a way to understand it.”
Kevin Moore, Aaron Webster, and Justin Wilson will be part of a special panel discussion at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, April 13, 2022. The event will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM.
“I think the fact that this organization exists is a huge positive for Oklahoma and for Oklahoma entrepreneurs,” said Moore. “It provides a good platform for people to present their ideas. And I would say that maybe most of the people in this group probably have some awareness of risk capital and what it means and how it should work. But I certainly encourage members of this group and just Oklahomans, in general, to think about venture capital and early-stage funding as an asset class and to make room for that in your investment appropriation.”
Register to Attend April OVF Power Lunch
I'm dedicated to insuring that those who spend time with me feel better about themselves and better equipped to face life's challenges. I spent twelve years in the fitness industry encouraging women to be comfortable in their own skin. I was honored to be the first US Team Captain for Team Red Bowl, a branch of Joint Aid Management that feeds over 1 million African Children each day. I then served four years as the President and CEO of the Guthrie America Chamber of Commerce. I am a Co Founder of an accelerator-backed technology startup called Made Possible By that makes giving easy for Community Minded businesses and provides a better way to share their Stories of Good. I am also the host of a podcast called Conversations Around Good where I highlight (domestic and international) businesses, organizations and individuals who are making a difference in their communities. My newest role is as the Executive Director for Cultivate Venture Accelerator. Creating a redemptive culture in OKC where everyone thrives.
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Chairman's Perspective: April 2022
“Show me the money,” is not just one of the most popular lines from Jerry Maguire, it’s also one of the most commonly listed needs for entrepreneurs starting and growing their businesses. If you enjoyed our engaging January Power Lunch, with the first part of venture capital investors in Oklahoma, you will not want to miss our April Power Lunch. During our April event, Aaron Webster with Cameron Ventures, Justin Wilson with i2E, and Kevin Moore with Spur Capital Partners will discuss what their organizations look for when funding and provide insight into what is currently going on with venture funding in Oklahoma. At the end of the session, Power Luncheon guests will have the opportunity to ask these funders questions.
We look forward to seeing our regular OVF attendees and encourage you to invite those aspiring entrepreneurs or funders to join us for the April Power Luncheon. We also encourage you to come prepared with your most pressing questions for our panelist. We look forward to seeing you at the OVF April Power Lunch.
Chairman's Perspective: March 2022
Nestled right to the east of downtown Oklahoma City is a small area of about 850 acres that is making a tremendous mark on innovation that impacts the world. The Oklahoma City Innovation District is home to more than 25,000 employees. To put that into perspective, that would make the Innovation District, on any given workday, the equivalent of the 17th largest town in Oklahoma placing it solidly between Jenks and Ardmore. During our March Power Luncheon, we look forward to welcoming our main speaker, Katy Evan Boren, President, and CEO of the Innovation District. Katy will share more on the Innovation District and many of the recent exciting developments for the growth of the district.
As Oklahoma becomes more innovative, this cannot happen without a significant amount of creativity. Our March pitch presenters will feature Laura Philips and Laurent Massenat with Factory Obscura. Laura and Laurent will share how Factory Obscura, as a collaborative company, uses immersive experiences to encourage the creation of art in all forms.
The OVF March Power Luncheon will deliver a dynamic look into innovation and creativity that is going on in our state. This luncheon would be a great time to invite your friends and colleagues that are interested in creativity and innovation. We look forward to seeing you at the OVF March Power Lunch.
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