Josh Merrill, Cody Dupler, and Jennifer Hankins discuss Opening Doors Through Collaboration in this article I wrote for Oklahoma Venture Forum’s 35th anniversary.

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.”