The real and imaginative adventures of Dennis Spielman

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Cleantech is more than clean energy—an interview with Barry Day.

Barry Day’s journey reflects his adaptability, entrepreneurial spirit, and passion for knowledge. Starting as a fracking engineer in the oil fields during the late nineties, he eventually moved into plastics manufacturing, then transitioned to research in the printed circuit board industry. He earned his MBA with a double major in marketing and entrepreneurship. Subsequently, Barry worked for a biotech startup, a Korean oil and chemical company, and gained extensive experience in technology scouting, investment, and mergers and acquisitions in the clean technology sector. He also contributed to the Cleantech Open and launched the Oklahoma Clean Technology Association, demonstrating his dedication to promoting innovation and sustainability in various industries.

Day founded The Oklahoma Clean Technology Association to promote awareness and knowledge of what clean technology is and promote entrepreneurship in clean technology. Day thought he would get pushback against clean technology when he moved to Oklahoma because of the politics involved. However, he’s learned Oklahomans, whether they’re liberal or conservative, they’re not against helping the environment – they just don’t want to be forced to by the government. 

“I believe that in entrepreneurship, the free market will push the right goals,” said Barry Day, Founder and Managing Director of Oklahoma Clean Technology Association. “And with the new technologies, that’s what will save us, not government intervention. We’ve seen this in the economy, where most of our clean energy and technology advancements have come from the private sector, not government mandates. It was really important to me to make sure that people knew this was apolitical and that it’s also something we focus on in the entrepreneurial sector, the free market.”

Day is working on inspiring people to create new technologies, including big ideas and game changers, instead of incremental improvements. To accomplish this mission, the Oklahoma Clean Technology Association has a twofold, two-pronged approach. The first is to spread awareness of clean technology and the eight pillars of Cleantech. 

“Oklahomans always associate clean tech with clean energy, but there’s so much more than just energy,” said Day. “It’s actually all kinds of different fields, subjects, and topics, including batteries, energy efficiency, energy storage, air quality, water tech, and agricultural technologies.”

For the second approach, Day is helping companies in their entrepreneurial journey. As an investor, Day found that clean technology tends to be the least profitable of all the verticals, but he believes it’s also the most important and that we must find ways to make profitable technologies that are good for businesses. The Oklahoma Clean Technology Association hosts quarterly events to help the community network, with speakers sharing information about clean technology and their journey, either as a startup, an expert in the field, or an investor.

“I found that there are several clean technology experts scattered throughout the state, but there’s no one single community where everyone can get together and discuss clean technology,” said Day.

One Oklahoma-based game-changing company Day is excited about is Utopia Plastix and its plant-based biodegradable polymer that doesn’t use oil. Another company to watch out for is Sci-Lume Labs, which develops biodegradable nylon for fishing lines and clothing. As Day encourages entrepreneurs to think big and aim for game-changing ideas that can revolutionize the world, he believes the Oklahoma Venture Forum is a great platform for connecting with knowledgeable individuals in the entrepreneurial community and fostering collaboration.

“There’s a lot of ways to come up with new technologies that are game changers if they think big and if they connect to the right people,” said Day. 

Barry Day will speak at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. The event will be open to members and guests in person at Metro Tech Spring Lake Campus (1900 Springlake Drive in Oklahoma City) and via ZOOM. For his presentation, Day wants to help people develop big, game-changing ideas that will revolutionize the world.

“We’ve seen a lot of smaller technologies, incremental technologies,” said Day. “I’ve seen a lot of coffee shops and lifestyle companies, small businesses. I want to get people to start thinking huge picture the unicorns, how they can become the next Microsoft or Apple, and particularly how they can change the world with environmentally safe technologies.”

Accessing Funding with SSBCI

Dollars from the State Small Business Credit Initiative are allowing a whole new cohort of institutional investors, angel investors, and high-net-worth individuals in Oklahoma to dip their toe in venture capital. Over 40 million dollars have been allocated to groups like 46Venture Capital, OLSF Ventures, and TEDC Creative Capital, to invest in businesses.  

Tracy Poole’s journey into entrepreneurship began as a transactional lawyer, spending 30 years working with law firms and corporations. His early investments in disruptive technologies within the energy sector while at Williams Energy Marketing and Trading ignited his passion for startups. After leaving Williams, he continued his entrepreneurial endeavors, eventually forming 46 Venture Capital. 

Before his time with OLSF Ventures, Sean Templemore-Finlayson worked for Jefferies Group LLC in the Energy Group, focusing on public mergers and acquisitions. While at Jefferies, Sean worked on $3 billion in successful deals. After his time with Jefferies, Sean co-founded a London-based financial intermediary focused on direct investment in startup companies. After building the firm’s revenue, product offerings, and client base, Sean moved on to OLSF Ventures. 

Rose Washington-Jones’s career path started in banking and finance at Mississippi State University and Trustmark National Bank. Her journey took her into higher education at Jackson State University and later to Los Angeles, where she worked at the University of Southern California in community and government relations. After the events of 9/11, she moved to Tulsa and has since led TEDC, focusing on fostering economic development through supporting startups and growing businesses. 
“What the SSBCI funds did for every state, including Oklahoma, is they incentivized the funds that are there to actually take a deep hard look and try hard to find the great deals that are local,” said Sean Templemore-Finlayson, Vice President of OLSF Ventures. “There’s definitely a lot of qualification screening stuff we have to do, but in terms of the actual dollars that they can use and how they use them and what it means for the business, it’s an unbelievable opportunity.” 

“SSBCI has been a really good catalyst to get things done and make sure that teams in Oklahoma are getting funded for those things that we feel are strategic for the state,” said Tracey Poole, Managing Partner for 46Venture Capital. 

While there are two branches of funds within the program, one for venture investments and one for lending, TEDC Creative Capital operates as a lender, distinguishing itself from venture capitalists by not seeking ownership in the companies it supports. 

“However, someone who has received venture backing from SSBCI can also qualify for loan funds,” said Rose Washington-Jones, CEO and Executive Director of TEDC Creative Capital. “Many times, companies can’t get all the funding from a bank or venture firm, and we’re here to fill that gap. 

This funding aims to support high-growth businesses in specific sectors such as life sciences, energy tech, and aerospace. Poole emphasized that venture capital suits businesses with significant growth potential and a focus on disruptive technologies. Washington-Jones added that SSBCI funding isn’t limited to large healthcare or aerospace industries. Rather, it caters to a variety of businesses based on their alignment with the priority sectors or supply chain relationships with them. 

Tracey Poole, Sean Templemore-Finlayson, and Rose Washington-Jones will be part of a panel discussion at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, October 11, 2023. Attendees can expect to gain invaluable insights into the impact of SSBCI funds on fostering innovation, promoting economic development, and nurturing innovative technologies in Oklahoma. With the state’s venture capital ecosystem evolving remarkably, this panel discussion promises to be an essential event for entrepreneurs, investors, and anyone interested in the future of the state’s economy. The event will be open to members and guests in person at 36 Degrees North (36 E. Cameron Street in Tulsa) and via ZOOM. 

“Now is one of the best times to be raising capital in Oklahoma period,” said Templemore-Finlayson. “And by coming to the panel, you get to see who got SSBCI dollars, and so who’s able to write some of those checks.” 

While entrepreneurs may not need funding right now, Washington-Jones said understanding all the resources available when trying to launch or grow a company will be worth their time. They may need these services in a month or two or next year. 

“If you don’t go, you won’t know,” said Poole. “People need to get involved in this ecosystem to understand the upside and the upside.”

Empowering Entrepreneurs to Solve Defense Problems

Drew Hendricks, a Regional Engagement Principal at the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN), has embarked on a dynamic career journey that spans military service, academia, entrepreneurship, and technology. His unique blend of experiences has equipped him with a holistic perspective on the complex landscape of defense innovation and entrepreneurship growth.

Hendricks’ path began when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after high school. Over his 14-year military career, he undertook diverse roles, from combat correspondent to marketing director for the recruiting command. Transitioning from active duty, Hendricks pursued higher education in advertising at the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to collaborate with various business ventures, and he later earned an MBA from the University of Southern California.

At NSIN, a program operating with the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Hendricks fosters connections between academia, venture companies, and the Department of Defense (DoD). One of NSIN’s flagship programs is the Venture portfolio, which develops and executes programs and services to facilitate access to emerging technology as it engages the talents of fast-moving innovators and non-traditional problem-solvers. The Venture Portfolio works directly with dual-use early-stage ventures emerging from both the academic and venture communities with solutions addressing Department of Defense problems.

“NSIN’s whole goal is to increase the speed of innovation and technological development within current and existing industries for national security,” said Hendricks. “Right now, locked up in someone’s brain somewhere, maybe even in Oklahoma, is a solution we need. But what happens is the DoD doesn’t go around asking, ‘What do you have? Show us what you got.'”

Hendricks emphasized businesses should rely on more than just DoD contracts for sustainability. Hendricks said companies thrive by catering to broader markets, which can ultimately enhance their stability and innovation. NSIN aims to work with small companies early on and encourage them to maintain versatility rather than being exclusively dependent on defense contracts. This approach aligns with the organization’s preference for engaging with companies poised for success in multiple sectors.

“Oklahoma has a unique blend of capabilities that can address complex problems,” Hendricks said. “We want the DoD to know we’re here and ready to contribute. I want to help you, but I want to help you if you do something to solve a problem.”

NSIN Challenges hosts competitive prize competitions on a specific topic or technology vertical. The open challenges allow early to mid-stage companies, even if they do not have SAM numbers, to pitch solutions to potential U.S. Department of Defense mission partners and industry subject matter experts for evaluation. 

“When I tell people it’s not that you need to be a solve everything on that list telling you if you have that capability, you should apply,” said Hendricks. “What ends up happening is you apply to the mass challenge, and then your venture gets accepted based on some of its stuff, you work with that DoD mission partner and other mission partners to figure out whether or not you have a product market fit. And then you pitch to that group.”

Drew Hendricks will speak more about the National Security Innovation Network to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, September 13, 2023. The event will be held at Metro Tech Spring Lake Campus in Oklahoma City from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. and will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. 

From Nonprofit to Entrepreneurship: Mike Beckham’s Journey to Building Purpose-Driven Simple Modern

Simple Modern, an Oklahoma-based company, is well-known for its stylish and high-quality drinkware products. Despite being in a highly competitive market, the company has managed to work with major brands such as Marvel, Disney, and Target, which Mike Beckham attributes to a combination of vision, execution, and a bit of luck.

“There’s a long story about how we got our very first license,” said Mike Beckham, CEO of Simple Modern. “If you look at all the licenses we have, the very first one was I had to get what’s called a local license with the University of Oklahoma. And I thought that would be a piece of cake, because I’d had some success in the business world, and I was an alumni of OU. And I was wrong. It was not a piece of cake. I had to really fight for it and work for it to convince OU that I was somebody that they wanted to license.”

Mike Beckham shared that his journey into entrepreneurship wasn’t a typical one. With a background in finance and nonprofit work, he lacked initially confidence in pursuing business ventures until his younger brother brought up the idea of starting a company together in 2009. This experience transformed his perspective, helping him realize his skills were well-suited for building businesses. Although Simple Modern has grown significantly, Beckham still considers it a startup, showcasing his ongoing passion for entrepreneurship.

“I think it was the way that I first got vision and the confidence that entrepreneurship was something that I could do, and that my skills could actually really work in building a business, and so I caught the bug, I think,” said Beckham.

Beckham’s experience working for a cause-oriented organization allowed him to develop a strong sense of purpose and commitment to giving back, which became the foundation for Simple Modern’s mission-driven culture. By integrating philanthropic values into the company’s core strategy, Beckham has been able to create a business that not only focuses on generating profits but also actively contributes to the betterment of society.

“Our goal at Simple Modern is to create a business that is about more than just generating profits, but also about giving back and making the world a better place,” said Beckham.

Mike Beckham emphasizes the importance of defining success as learning and cultivating a growth mindset. He believes that skilled experimentation accelerates learning and leads to innovative solutions. Despite increasing automation, Beckham remains optimistic about the future of entrepreneurship as a career choice.

“One of the best pieces of advice that I can offer to somebody that’s a young entrepreneur is that if you develop a growth mindset and you become very good at experimentation, it almost inevitably will lead to value creation, because you start to learn really rapidly about customers and what they want, and their needs, and how to fix it, and what works and what doesn’t, and how to pivot, and as you pivot, how to learn more,” said Beckham.

In the upcoming Oklahoma Venture Forum Awards Show, Beckham will be the keynote speaker. He plans to share more about Simple Modern’s story and focus on the importance of mission-driven leadership in entrepreneurship. Additionally, Beckham aims to share some of the lessons he’s learned throughout his 14-year journey in the world of startups.

“I love being a part of supporting this community, and I love what OVF is all about,” said Beckham.

Cattlemen’s Congress: creating an economic impact by filling a void

Cattlemen’s Congress, a unique event focused exclusively on cattle shows, has been awarded the prestigious Venture Forum Economic Impact Award. The Oklahoma-based organization was established in the winter of 2020 to provide a venue for cattlemen and cattlewomen across the United States to showcase and market their elite purebred genetics. 

The award-winning event was born out of necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the National Western, a major livestock show in Denver, was canceled. The first-ever Cattlemen’s Congress filled the void left by the canceled show, initially planning to operate for just one year.  

“There was a lot of concern by the agriculture industry nationwide and cattlemen across the US that they had to keep that cattle industry moving from many different perspectives, from marketing, from their livelihoods, and also even a little bit to the food chain,” said Tyler Norvell, Secretary of the Board for Cattlemen’s Congress. “So Oklahoma stepped up, and we hosted the first-ever Cattlemen’s Congress to fill in for the National Western”  

However, due to its tremendous success and the positive economic impact on Oklahoma City, the event continued. Tyler Norvell and Bray Haven, Executive Vice President, explained that their event is unique in that it focuses solely on cattle shows, without any additional components such as rodeos or carnivals. The strategic location of Oklahoma City at the crossroads of major highways I-40 and I-35 allows for easy access and places the event in the heart of cattle country. 

“We’re right here in the heart of cattle country,” said Haven. “Oklahoma’s got a lot of cattlemen, a lot of people in the purebred cattle industry, but just simply right here in the middle of the US helps us a lot too. Makes us unique.” 

The Cattlemen’s Congress has drawn participants from 44 states and 5 countries, with exhibitors representing 60% of the US herd. The Venture Forum Economic Impact Award recognizes the exceptional contribution the event has made to Oklahoma City and the state as a whole. 

As they look to the future, the organization aims to continue growing and expanding, particularly by involving more international visitors. They also plan to focus on educational conferences that teach cattlemen about industry trends, technology, and meeting consumer demands. 

“One thing we’re really starting to focus on now is international visitors,” said Haven. “We’re really expanding in South America and the interest there. The way we see it is that’s really our opportunity to grow because these first three years, we’ve really captured as much of the market as we probably can in the US.” 

Both Norvell and Haven expressed their gratitude for the recognition from their peers and emphasized the hard work and dedication of the entire Cattlemen’s Congress team. The event’s success is a testament to the spirit of Oklahoma and the support it has received from various stakeholders, including the governor, state legislature, Oklahoma City Chamber, and Visitors Bureau. 

“Winning this award is just a true testament of Oklahoman hospitality and the good people of Oklahoma and the good policy that we have here, the good leadership that we have here in our state,” said Haven.  

The 2023 OVF Awards will take place at the Oklahoma History Center on May 18th, 2023, from 11 am to 1:30 pm. Details and tickets are available at  

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