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Keep Calm And Carry On.
Uncertainty is bad for business. Very bad for business. Sales projections, budgeting, staffing, purchasing, short-term and long-term reinvestment all depend on having as much knowledge and understanding of your industry, audience, market demand and competition as possible. Outside factors are always involved, but often with the least amount of impact. That is, until a national emergency changes everything.
The current COVID-19 health crisis is impacting everyone in Oklahoma, the United States and most of the world. Our doctors, nurses and medical professionals are doing an amazing job of taking this challenge head-on. Local, state and Federal officials are doing what they think is best to gain control of the situation. We can debate their effectiveness, but that’s a whole separate issue. The public is concerned. Leadership is demanded in a time like this.
There is no single “correct” way to deal with a viral infection like COVID-19. That’s why we have so much uncertainty as to if we all (collectively) are doing enough, in the right order to create as safe of a situation as possible. Do too little and the virus gets out of control. Do too much and we strangle businesses, churches, and non-profits to a point of no return. No one benefits from that.
So what can we, Oklahoma business owners and investors, do in an uncertain situation like this with no end date in sight? Adapt, keep calm and carry on (don't forget to wash your hands, stop touching your face).
If your business can operate with remote workers or other alternatives to a full in-house staff, please explore those options. Use technology and common sense to make the necessary changes to limit public interactions and speed up the “flatten the curve” period of COVID-19 management. If you can’t operate in that way, focus on healthy practices for your employees, guest and customers. There are numerous list of actions to take available on your preferred search engine. Be flexible. Your employees are also dealing with changes in their daily lives. Schools are closed, stores are running out of essential supplies and everyone is on edge. Remember, your people are your greatest asset.
When it comes to servicing consumers, the key is to adapt to what’s best for them - not what’s best for you / your business. If your industry is affected by closure, quarantine or other restrictions you cannot keep an “as usual” approach for day-to-day operations. Change your system to what works best in this altered scenario. Create new partnerships, offer in-home or curbside delivery, change business hours if needed, offer discounts or credits to those also impacted, etc.
Put people first, so your business can survive this period of uncertainty. If the interruption to your cash-flow doesn’t kill your business, you can develop long-term relationships and public goodwill that will benefit you far into the future. These are only a few of the hundreds of ways your business can adapt to this uncertain time. Don’t panic, don’t give up and don’t let temporary uncertainty, although completely out of your control for a yet-to-be-determined time period, cripple or kill your business.
Keep Calm And Carry On. Reach out to Oklahoma Venture Forum members for assistance in adapting your business strategy, execution or management during the COVID-19 crisis. After all, we’re in this together and stronger when we collaborate.
Wash your hands, stay home if you don’t feel well and use your common sense. Lead by example. We’ve endured much worse threats many, many times before. The one thing you can be certain of is the good nature of Oklahomans during tough times.
Steven Griggs. Ph.D., combines strong industry experience with academic achievement to provide a unified approach to transitioning high-end academics to real world usage. Griggs has a unique understanding how academics can serve you for the rest of your life. Academically he earned a B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in engineering, an MBA specializing in finance and strategy, and a Master of Arts in economics. He also earned a post-doctorate in International Business and Entrepreneurship. Griggs also has more than 30 years of full time aerospace industry experience and seven years of government and industry consulting. He was an adjunct faculty member at OSU teaching Professional MBA courses for seven years and a full-time faculty teaching management and entrepreneurship courses for three years. Griggs joined the management department at UCO in August of 2018.
Griggs’ career mainly has been in the front end of business: basic research and development, technology development, product development, prototyping, proposal writing, funding pursuit, government contracting pursuit and capture, project management, program management, supplier coordination, and just about anything that is required to bring innovation to the customer, while ensuring that our offering has superior value to the customer. He developed the ideas, strategies, plans, program execution plans, development and execution teams, and transition planning into company operations. He reviewed over 800 and coached approximately 200 Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) firms that were attempting to sell their technology to the firms he worked for. Griggs held multiple positions in the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, Northrop Grumman Advanced Technology Design Center, the Boeing Phantom Works, LTV Advanced Programs, and General Dynamics New Product Development organizations. He was also on multi-company, co-located teams that were developing new aircraft concepts and technologies for future military aircraft. He also coordinated multi-disciplinary supplier community to develop technologies to transition into Lockheed Martin products.
Griggs was on more than 45 aircraft programs, developed and transitioned more than 1500 technologies and reviewed for consideration approximately 4000 technologies for integrating into new products. He held leadership and team member positions in all types of organizational structures, cultures, and “systems.” He also had to lead, work or report to all types of people with various personalities and behaviors.
Diversifying Oklahoma’s economic opportunities
by Dennis Spielman
What started with “poor decisions and lots of circumstances,” COOP Ale Works has grown into a company with a $20 million expansion plan at the former 45th Infantry Armory. Despite feeling like an outsider in the brewing community from not being a brewer himself, Daniel Mercer, CEO of Coop Ale Works, sees positives in his business-focused skill set.
“From day one, back in 2006 when Mark and J.D. and I met, one of my kind of tidbits and inputs was that we had the opportunity, in the research phase, to set a foundation for how we wanted to move forward and how diligent we wanted to be and how we wanted to run this thing,” Mercer said. “We were starting a brewery from scratch in a market that didn ’t have a production brewery outside of brewpubs, which aren’t packaging breweries.”
One of the first challenges the COOP team faced was Oklahoma ’s prohibitive alcohol laws, including 3.2 beer and the lack of availability of beer in grocery and convince stores. They collected data and feedback about what people in Oklahoma were drinking back in 2006. They knew Oklahomans had different tastes than what people were drinking on the coast or what people were drinking internationally. They did beer tastings in the back room of Cheever ’s.
“We were interested in whether there was a receptive audience to craft beer that didn ’t exist at the time,” Mercer explained.
They worked through the summer of 2006, brewing together. They then spent the next two years putting together plans, which included going to dozens of breweries around the United States. They visited with engineers, brewers, and financial people to investigate their methods of success, their histories and then built a strategy to launch COOP in the summer of 2008. They raised the initial capital, found their building, and then spent about six months building out “this little 5,000 square foot metal shack” over at 51st and Western, next to the 51st Street Speakeasy bar. They started brewing beer commercially on January 9th in 2009 and selling on March 3rd, 2009.
Now, the Armory project is going to consume Mercer ’s time over the next couple of years. He believes it will create a massive economic impact in the city and around the State Capitol Complex. However, with COOP ’s proven track record, raising the capital has been a challenge.
“Once you get into the core of it, we ’re taking this brewery model, and we ’re expanding it and adding other new businesses to our model that put us right back in the same boat that we were in 10, 12 years ago,” Mercer explained. “We ’re getting into the hotel business or we ’re getting into this culinary business that involves a taproom in a restaurant and a speakeasy and all these event support spaces that have culinary features and a pool club, bar. Banks have been interested but not receptive to the total deal structure and scale. It ’s a large deal, and when you take a package to a bank that says you ’re going to spend $36 million over 20 months, including the money we ’ve already spent over the past couple of years in development, it becomes a scenario where virtually every bank is casting doubt, and then your solution, there, is to try to find alternative methods to finance your deal.”
Where others may have given up with the challenges Mercer has faced over the past two years - including modernizing a building built in 1938 with no functional plumbing, electrical or heat and air - Mercer looks for solutions from a wide assortment of resources.
“Luckily, I ’ve got some historical background and tax credit work in historic preservation and, at least, exposure to deals like that and even participation and structuring some of those deals long ago,” Mercer said. “Capital can come from anywhere and it does come from everywhere. For us, in this particular deal, we ’re not raising more equity, so that component of the capital stack just doesn ’t exist for us. We have cash on the books that we ’ve been using for development expenses over the past couple of years, and we have a number of other sources of capital in this deal.”
Mercer is excited about the opportunity in Oklahoma, for both investors to bring money in, and also for entrepreneurs to start to drive a focus around their industries.
“We spend a lot of time talking about diversifying industry in Oklahoma, and a lot of that talk is around, either, high-impact or high-level concept industries,” Mercer said. “Whether it ’s biomedical research or autoimmune disease treatment or mechanical devices... things centered around the oil and gas industry that may be new technologies and hardware technologies. But there are also plenty of other industries that just aren ’t near as sexy, frankly. And I think, in Oklahoma in particular, we ’ve done a great job of focusing on our resources that we have. Particularly around the OU Health Science Center, around the oil and gas base that exists here and all the new technologies that have sprung out of that industry over the past, say, 20 years.”
Daniel Mercer will be speaking at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, April 8th, 2020. He ’s been attending OVF since 2001 and encourages others to become a member because of the “direct exposure to a knowledge base and resources that aren ’t highly-publicized in Oklahoma... and frankly anywhere.”
By: Lori Williams
Is anything bigger than basketball in Oklahoma City? Ask Brian Byrnes, the senior vice president of Sales and Marketing for the Thunder, and the answer might surprise you. “The Thunder has made a community investment play that is beyond basketball,” says Byrnes. “It’s called the Thunder Launchpad.”
Introduced in January of 2018 as part of the Thunder’s 10th season, The Launchpad is an accelerator program located in OKC’s Midtown district. “We are inspired by the other entities that are driving the future of our state’s economy,” says Byrnes, “and we wanted to use the marketing and media power of the Thunder to elevate Oklahoma City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
To make the Launchpad a reality, the Thunder has teamed up with StitchCrew. This is a company that helps technology minded entrepreneurs launch their ideas and obtain venture capital. So far, 18 have passed through the program; another group is being vetted to begin in the spring of 2019. The participants receive a space in which to work as well as other needed resources. They also are matched with mentors.
“The Thunder certainly has terrific relationships with the business community vis-à-vis all of our corporate partnerships and our business to business relations,” says Byrnes. “In many cases we have the opportunity to invite and encourage and validate the applicants who are mentors. Then StitchCrew matches the applicants, who are called founders, with the mentors and develops a customized business program for each one.”
“So that’s part of the value we see in the program, that the Thunder is strengthening its relationship with the business community through mentorship.”
There are other valuable takeaways from this Thunder initiative, both in validation and in lessons learned “In December of 2018,” says Byrnes, “I heard the incoming chairperson of the Chamber of Commerce state their four objectives for 2019. One goal centers on stimulating new business growth in Oklahoma.”
“I was encouraged when he cited the Thunder Launchpad as an example of local businesses giving back by building an infrastructure to help entrepreneurial start-ups take risks.”
As Byrnes and the team at StitchCrew help the founders take calculated risks, they are also learning more about the entrepreneurial process. “Going into this, we thought it would be a very linear a to b to c kind of process,” reflects Byrnes. “What we’ve learned is that it takes much longer than we anticipated.”
“During the twelve week program, we help the founders identify where they have growth potential. At the end of the course, we bring the founders to their presentation day and connect them to potential investors and financial backers.”
“But although the funding and financial backing has happened really well, it takes place three, six, or nine months after the founders go through the program.”
What does that mean for the next group who will launch their businesses this year? “We’re learning to have more patience,” says Brian Byrnes. “And now we see the post-graduation window as a very critical time to nurture and support the founders.”
“But we’re also very attentive to the fact that this is elevating our brand. It continues to showcase that the Thunder is progressive. And it is helping to address and support broader objectives for our city and state beyond just the Thunder enterprise.”
Written by: Lori Williams
“Oklahoma now has a Lieutenant Governor who is also small business owner,” says Matt Pinnell. “So, naturally, I’m going to be going around the state seeking out opportunities to speak to entrepreneurs.”
Before he was Lieutenant Governor, Matt Pinnell and his wife Lisa launched Binxy Baby, a company that sells baby hammocks that fit into shopping carts. Today the business is thriving and there are plans to launch two new products later this year. But the Lieutenant Governor still remembers what it was like at the beginning. “The attention to detail when you’re building a business is so important,” he says. In an interview ahead of his presentation at the March OVF luncheon, the Lieutenant Governor shares what those details look like. “I want to help entrepreneurs connect with the resources they need,” he says.
“We have the best career tech infrastructure in the country,” says the Lt. Governor. “Many classes are available to help start-ups bolster their businesses.”
The Lieutenant Governor also wants entrepreneurs to tap into the accelerators in the state. “The Thunder Launchpad and OK Innovate are raising money for investment funds. i2E also does a good job in that area. But we need more accelerators.”
“We have one of the best states in the country for philanthropic activity. So we need to get those people much more engaged in investing in business ventures.”
Engagement is key, especially when it involves connecting with the right people and resources. “When Lisa and I decided to launch our business,” recalls the Lieutenant Governor, “it was a slow build process.”
For example, it took time to work through the patent protocol for Lisa’s invention. But that investment, which secured a lockproof patent, means that the Pinnells are able to deal effectively with the legal issues that come with the territory. “It’s very frustrating,” says the Lt. Governor, “to see so many knockoff products on places like Amazon. I want small business owners to realize how important it is to find an attorney who specializes in patent infringement issues.”
“We went to experts in different fields very early in the process of building our business,” he recalls. “We identified a professional vendor in New York who specializes in manufacturing facilities in China. She helped us through that process.”
“It probably took us an extra year to get our product off the ground, but it paid off for us.”
Finding customers and making it easy for them to pay for products is another detail that must be carefully considered. “Shopify has made it easy for us to build the e-commerce side of our business,” says the Lt. Governor. “Another thing that has helped us is social media.”
“It is critical for entrepreneurs to quickly find someone who is technology proficient. When social media is done well, it’s a lot easier to grow a business.”
Growing a business, it seems, is a lot like growing Oklahoma. That’s why the newly elected Lt. Governor is seeking occasions to speak to individuals who want to invest in entrepreneurship. “I never turn down an interview,” he says, “and I’m always looking for opportunities to speak to people who care about these issues. Reach out to my office* and let’s talk. Because entrepreneurship is the future of Oklahoma.”
BY SCOTT MEACHAM FOR THE OKLAHOMAN
Published: Sun, March 8, 2020 6:00 AM
Laura Fleet, founder of SendARide, a company that provides patients rides to doctor appointments, Monday, December 23, 2019. [Doug Hoke/The Oklahoman]
Successful startups are all about vision and passion and great ideas. They are also about attaining metrics that lead to positive cash flow and attract investment.
When it comes to metrics, the customer growth story from SendaRide, a young Oklahoma company that provides customized, concierge, non-emergency medical transportation, packs a punch.
SendaRide serves hospitals, medical practices, and non-profits. Riders come from vulnerable populations, including seniors, people who have medical conditions, and riders with disabilities or special needs — groups who can be untrusting of traditional ride-share and uncomfortable with mobile iPhone apps.
In less than 36 months, SendaRide has completed about 60,000 rides. The company is continuing to add jobs — for sales reps, customer service professionals, and drivers.
"We found an unmet need and created a superior product with our own technology, our own customer service, and our own drivers," CEO Laura Fleet said. "When I meet with a potential client, no one ever says I don't have a need. No one ever says we don't fit."
Since SendaRide pricing is comparable to taxis or traditional ride share, budgeting is straightforward.
Highly trained and compassionate drivers and a dedicated in-house customer service team are SendaRide's secret sauce. Drivers are vetted according to the client's needs. For example, a hospital might require background checks, fingerprinting, CPR training, or flu shots. Safety and security are paramount.
"We do in-person interviews of every driver to meet the mindset and the mission of the company," Fleet said. "They are amazing, like-minded individuals."
SendaRide is expanding into five major metro areas in Texas — Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, and San Antonio — and plans to be in eight states within the next three years. The company is seeing a groundswell of interest from other organizations that serve populations with safe and secure transportation needs — churches, senior centers, adult daycare, oncology centers, and even organizations that help people re-enter the work force and need transport to interviews.
Just last week, Fleet met with several non-profits that provide senior services.
"All of them need help with transportation in some way — from required doctor visits, to lab visits for diabetes, to drug testing," Fleet said.
i2E has been working with SendaRide since the company launched in 2018. We have provided capital, leveraged with mentoring and customized venture services.
"i2E surrounded me with consultants and professionals," Fleet said. "I turn to them for advice. They brought in a sales consultant who analyzed our sales process. Now we have a hand-selected VP. If I were to call i2E and say I really need a marketing person, they would find me a list of vetted people. They are definitely hands-on. They do not abandon a company once they invest. We can ask their advice or help on anything."
That's i2E's mission and public/private sector model. We provide much more than capital, and we do not abandon a company once we invest. Our portfolio companies' metrics are our metrics. We measure our performance by their success.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham ati2E_Comments@i2E.org.
Like you, Revolution has been closely monitoring the coronavirus situation and what it means for the Rise of the Rest Road Trip this April. The tour involves thousands of participants and dozens of venues across five cities in four states. Unfortunately, given uncertainties about the ability of attendees to participate in the tour, we have made the very difficult decision to postpone our ninth Rise of the Rest Road Trip.
We put a lot of thought and time into making this decision, but believe that protecting the health of everyone that comes together for the tour from across the country—founders, startup champions, investors, and press—is of paramount importance.
We also know that part of what makes the tour so powerful is the opportunity to bring people from your community together—with individuals in the startup world from other cities—and celebrate what makes your city special. We want to make sure that when the bus rolls through, it has the desired catalytic impact we’ve promised.
We are working on rescheduling the tour and hope to share information soon, including next steps for pitch competition applicants.
All of our Rise of the Rest tours have provided an extraordinary lens through which to view a city and develop relationships with those who are relentlessly dedicated to building a better economy and future for startups and the city they call home. It became very clear during the planning process, that your city was no exception. We are so grateful for your partnership over the last few months and look forward to solidifying our future plans in the coming weeks.
If you have specific questions, you may submit them to RiseOfTheRest@revolution.com.
All the best,
Chairman and CEO
OKLAHOMA VENTURE FORUM HOSTS VENTURE OF THE YEAR AND MOST PROMISING NEW BUSINESS AWARDS
Announcing the finalists for the 2020 PVF Venture of the Year
and Most Promising New Business Awards
OKLAHOMA CITY 03-04-2020 – Oklahoma Venture Forum will host Oklahoma’s 16th Venture of the Year and Most Promising New Business awards ceremony on May 13th, 2020 at the Oklahoma History Center. Featuring keynote speaker Scott Klososky, Founding Partner with Future Point of View.
The Oklahoma Venture Forum is a non-profit organization formed in 1987 to encourage economic development in Oklahoma. The organization provides opportunities for investors, entrepreneurs, and others to exchange ideas and experiences to grow new and existing small businesses.
The Venture of the Year and Most Promising New Business Award are two of the most prestigious recognitions a company can receive because they represent the triumph of the entrepreneurial dream and spirit. Evaluation criteria for the Most Promising New Business Award will be based on: product or service innovation, market potential, potential economic impact, and more.
2020 Venture of the Year finalists include: Insights to Behavior and SendaRide. Insights to Behavior is an innovative behavior management company offering an exciting, new technology-based solution for developing behavior interventions for K-12 school districts. SendaRide provides customized non-emergency medical transport for the health care industry through use of an online technology platform.
The 2020 finalists for Most Promising New Business include Galvanic Energy and Canopy Weather. Galvanic Energy addresses economic and technical barriers to create an abundant domestic supply of raw materials for alternative-energy future. Canopy Weather identifies roof condition and damage within 1 hour of hailstorms by using innovation within the data science and AI required to create the original dataset.
“We are always blown away by the competition and look forward to seeing what new innovations will come next. Historically this event was held biannually but considering Oklahoma’s entrepreneurial growth OVF will now be seeking submissions for these awards each year. Each round of nominations & applications reveals a new group of entrepreneurial pioneers who deserve to be publicly recognized for their achievements.” explains Che’ Loessberg, Executive Director of Oklahoma Venture Forum.
The Oklahoma Venture Forum will have special keynote speaker Scott Klososky, Founding Partner of Future Point of View. The 2020 Venture of the Year and Most Promising New Business Awards will be hosted on May 13th, 2020 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. The ceremony will take place at the Oklahoma History Center. Registration for this event must be done online through the website: www.ovf.org. For any inquiries about the awards event, please contact Che’ Loessberg at email@example.com.
The Fine Art of Balance When Branding A Business, City or State
Thanks to the state of Oklahoma and the city of Oklahoma City, branding is getting a lot of attention these days. Both entities released new branding this month to considerable attention, both good and bad. Branding is, and always has been, subjective as far as the public is concerned. As a branding expert, it’s been interesting to watch the process of introducing an entire city or state to new logos, cutlines and concepts that represent the entire city or state. Two different approaches have resulted in two very different end results. Both have fans and detractors, both for very different reasons. That’s the nature of branding.
Last March, Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell spoke to OVF about the his role in the re-brnding process for the state at the request of the new Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt. This involved an short, open process involving literally hundreds of volunteer marketing, design and communication professionals. The best branding typically doesn’t come from “design by committee” but the new Governor and Lt. Governor wanted to involve as many opinions as possible in the design process, including representation from metro read, rural and tribal voices. The ending result was a multifaceted, multicolor round logo surrounding a negative-space star in the middle above the state name in a simple but modern font. Also included was the new slogan “Imagine That”. Opinions ranged from love to hate and everything in-between. Imagine that!
Just one week later, the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau launched an all-new branding campaign. The city a took a more direct approach by working with a local design agency being directed by the City officials and staff. OKLAHOMA CITY - The Modern Frontier is the new slogan for OKC regarding promoting the city for tourism, attracting residents and economic development. New multimedia campaigns will follow with the new branding attached to graphics, photography, video and multimedia assets to tel the story of OKC as the modern version of a frontier or the frontier version of modern living. Take your pick, it’s all up for interpretation.
The first rule of great branding: The new brand cannot be everything to everyone. Designing for “everyone” ends ups pleasing no one. A great brand needs to be identifiable, memorable and easy to connect to the subject it represents. The trick is balancing what and how much can be represented in the total branding package. In the branding process you can try to do too much, which ends up with a hard to read, understand or relate to brand mark. But you can also play it too safe and not move the brand forward in an effective way. Take it from someone who has designed hundreds of brands and identity packages, the magic is somewhere in the middle.
When branding the state of Oklahoma, there is a lot to consider. People, places, heritage, terrain, weather, and perceptions of the residents and non-residents. To that end, the state “branding by committee” process was not as successful as it could (and should) have been. The new branding is better than the old, tired material but that’s not good enough. OKC was smarter in approach, but didn’t push new boundaries in the final work product. I’m sure there was bureaucracy involved in the final decision. Both were due an upgrade, so no matter your opinion on the new branding it’s a welcome change.
So, what are the take-aways from all this? Branding is hard. Everyone's a critic. Trying too hard is just as much of a sin as not trying hard enough. You can’t please everyone, so don’t try to. Better doesn't always equal great. You can have too much of a good thing. Balance is the key. Leadership leads to the best results. Oklahoma is more than OK. We’re all in this together.
Bonus: Branding is big picture, intended to be used for a very long time. Ideally 10-100 years. Never less than 5 years without a major (public) change event as the catalyst for a new identity. Take your time to get it right, because you’re living with it for a good while.
D. Ward Hobson brings a range of business and intellectual property experience to his practice. Ward primarily counsels clients on the acquisition, protection, maintenance and enforcement of intellectual property rights on both a local and national scale. His experience includes managing patent and trademark portfolios, providing clearance opinions, devising filing strategies, procuring and maintaining of patents, trademark and copyright registrations, negotiating intellectual property agreements, reviewing and analyzing intellectual property due diligence in connection with asset purchases, and defending intellectual property rights through Trademark Trial and Appeal Board proceedings and various state and federal court litigation.
In addition, Ward regularly counsels clients on corporate transactions, entity formations, real estate transactions, commercial lending transactions, healthcare transactions and a variety of litigation matters.
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