The Future of Oklahoma’s Venture Ecosystem
Michael Basch, Nathaniel Harding, and Matt Wilson
by Dennis Spielman
Atento Capital, Cortado Ventures, and Victorum Capital Club each have their criteria and types of companies for investments. Atento’s focus is on generating excellent risk-adjusted returns and making a lasting economic impact through stimulating entrepreneurial activity in the community. Cortado invests in capital-efficient businesses that leverage technology to scale in the Fintech, Biotech, Aerospace, Ag Tech, Energy Tech, Manufacturing, and Logistics sectors. The Victorum Capital Club is a membership network of accredited investors focused on entrepreneurship, investment, and business development to generate a return on investment and promote community and economic development.
Basch’s advice is cash is a relative commodity for companies looking for investors.
“I think, doing the work to understand your customer and the problem you're solving before you raise any money where you would completely understand the problem and the willingness to pay,” said Michael Basch, Managing Partner at Atento Capital. “I think it's doing the work on customer discovery ahead of time and not raising money for the sake of raising money but raising money. Cause you have to raise money. Not every business needs to raise money.”
Over at Cortado Ventures, Harding said they invest in business-to-business technology that “you can put a moat around.”
“That's defendable where that company can either have an advantage because they have patents or either intellectual property that's difficult to, to replicate, or their strategy involves, a key partnership with a large company that can help them scale very quickly,” said Nathaniel Harding, Managing Partner at Cortado Ventures. “There's other ways of having a moat, besides having patents or trade secrets, but we look for defendable, unique, novel technology.”
Victorum Capital Club works the same way as any other venture capital firm, but while they don’t currently fund, they have a network of investors from across the country they pool together.
“Each of those investors gets to decide if they want to invest and if not, and if they do how much they want to invest, then when we have everybody's commitments, we just group everybody together into a single entity and make an investment,” said Matt Wilson, Managing Partner at Victorum Capital Club. “Historically, venture capital has only been available to the wealthy elite pension funds, insurance companies, things like that. And what our business model does is it brings access to high-quality investment opportunities to everybody that is an accredited investor.”
Wilson said a venture capital firm will generically tell potential companies that they look for are “team, team, team, market size, and traction.”
“It's a joke, but it's a very serious point that the people are arguably the most important thing,” said Wilson. “One of the unique things about it that is particularly interesting to us and where we’ve found ourselves gravitating to is a CEO that has a real reason, like a real differentiated reason to be successful. So somebody that grew up in the industry or was the market already, like they have some unique reason that differentiates themselves from just any other guy off the street to be successful in their industry, focused on their customers, with their product, things like that.”
People who are trying to make a quick buck, who don't have a good sense of why they're building their business, and don't want to collaborate are some red flags in a CEO Basch said. Basch also watches for how they take feedback, how they respond to adversity, and how they problem-solve.
“Don’t start a company or raise money because you want to, but do it because you have to,” said Basch.
Harding said one of the benefits of doing business in Oklahoma is fewer gatekeepers here.
“If you're a first-time founder, you may not have a track record,” said Harding. “You may not have like the network or the keys to the city, but you can get meetings with the people that are going to help you, and they're going to be willing to help you. That's really special and powerful. I think if that is embraced and that entrepreneurs and founders know that, then they should be not afraid to reach out to people that may be able to give them great advice or they've had experienced that sector. If we all leverage that as a community, we can scale and grow the venture capital and entrepreneurial community much faster.”
Michael Basch, Nathaniel Harding, and Matt Wilson will be part of a special panel discussion at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, January 12, 2022. The event will be open to guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM.
“You don't have to be any particular thing to be involved in this ecosystem system and support founders and support businesses,” said Wilson. “There's a lot of different ways to do that. And so I think everybody should find ways to be active and build the future of our state, build the future businesses that are kind, and going to drive us for the next 50 years.”