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The Importance of Storytelling in Business

The Importance of Storytelling in Business
An interview with OVF Awards Keynote Speaker, Matt Payne

In 2015, Matt Payne moved to Oklahoma with his wife, embarking on a journey of experimentation and reinvention. From adjunct professorship at Oklahoma City University to delving into photography and documentary filmmaking, Payne embraced each opportunity enthusiastically and determinedly. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to co-found a soundstage business, aiming to propel Oklahoma’s film industry forward. Despite facing unfamiliar territory, Payne and his partners navigated the challenges, eventually expanding into a production company and creative agency within Prairie Surf. For Payne, the essence of his career lies in constant adaptation and storytelling.

“I think Oklahoma is an incredible place to be an entrepreneur, and it’s an incredible time to be an entrepreneur in Oklahoma,” said Matt Payne, CEO of Prairie Surf Creative. “We had the idea of turning a city building into a movie studio. Pretty quickly, we were able to get the city to believe in it. We were able to get the state to believe in this idea. We were able to get the entrepreneurial community; we were able to get the film community to all sort of rally around this idea. I don’t know that that happens in other cities. I don’t know that two entrepreneurs could come up with the idea that, ‘Hey, we’re going to take this 1.3 million square feet in downtown Oklahoma City and turn it into a movie studio and then actually have that happen in nine months.’”

As the keynote speaker for this year’s OVF Awards, Payne will delve into his background, emphasizing the crucial role of storytelling in business. He believes that in a world where everyone is vying for attention, it’s the emotional connection that a business creates that truly matters. His talk will guide entrepreneurs in reflecting on their journey, viewing themselves as the heroes driving their businesses forward, and reframing their narratives to highlight the obstacles overcome and the successes achieved. He will show how these stories can be leveraged to fuel future endeavors.

“The better our story, the better we tell our story, the more likely we are to have a successful business,” said Payne.

Join Matt Payne at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Awards on Thursday, May 16, 2024, to recognize the achievements of Oklahoma businesses. The OVF Venture of the Year, Most Promising New Venture, and the Award for Economic Impact are three of the most prestigious recognitions a company can receive. The event will be held at the Oklahoma History Center (800 Nazih Zuhdi Dr, Oklahoma City, OK). Register at to attend.

“As an entrepreneur, as a business owner, you’re constantly in the trenches, constantly fighting, constantly dealing with a fire, looking for the next thing,” said Payne. “We rarely gather in our community and celebrate one another. And I think this event’s a great opportunity to celebrate individuals who have done a lot to celebrate our own successes because in celebrating ’em, we lay the groundwork to move on to more success.”

Tulsa’s Tech Hub Advantage

Tulsa’s Tech Hub Advantage: An interview with Tori Burris, Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Tulsa Innovation Labs

Before Tori Burris became the manager of strategic initiatives at Tulsa Innovation Labs, she was a vital member of the early team at Holbert and Tulsa, the city’s vocational software engineering school. Burris played a pivotal role for three and a half years, contributing to the growth from a startup with the first five people to a thriving institution with over a hundred alums, 250 students, and a staff of over 30. During her tenure, she lived the entrepreneurial

journey, oversaw the career services department, and collaborated with startups seeking to hire junior technical talent.

Tulsa Innovation Labs is pivotal in catalyzing the leadership of Tulsa’s future innovation sectors. Burris said the organization focuses on four key sectors—virtual health, energy technology, advanced mobility, and cyber and analytics. Through an extensive study, Tulsa Innovation Labs identifies areas where the city’s assets align with future industry needs. Working at a systems level, the organization takes a strategic approach to economic development, intentionally coordinating efforts to ensure the city’s growth and stability. Rather than delving into day-to-day operations, Tulsa Innovation Labs operates at a higher level, aiming to position the city strategically through thoughtful initiatives in technology-based economic development.

“Outside of those verticals, people might know Tulsa Innovation Labs for our grants and policy team or some of our big grant wins,” said Tori Burris. “Tulsa Innovation Labs led the Build Back Better Regional Challenge win that we had about a year ago, and that was a great opportunity for us to establish ourselves with the EDA, the Economic Development Administration, and to give Tulsa some intentionally coordinated investment in how we grow the advanced mobility in cyber industries.”

Earlier in October, President Biden announced Tulsa was one of 31 tech hubs nationwide. According to the White House press release, Tulsa Hub for Equitable & Trustworthy Autonomy (THETA), led by Tulsa Innovation Labs, aims to become a global leader in developing and commercializing autonomous systems for use cases ranging from agriculture and pipeline inspections to regional transportation.

“With the Tech Hubs distinction, the Greater Tulsa Region is set to capture $4 billion of the $1.36 trillion global autonomous systems market,” said Burris.

Burris emphasized that becoming a Tech Hub not only signifies the city’s current trajectory but also presents a unique opportunity for startups and investors to play a pivotal role in shaping Tulsa’s future as a global player in autonomy and cybersecurity industries, with the potential to create significant economic impact and generate up to 200,000 new jobs over the next decade.

Entrepreneurs and investors eager to leverage Tulsa’s emergence as a Tech Hub have a unique opportunity to participate in the city’s growing tech ecosystem. Burris encourages startups to explore the possibilities within the advanced mobility and cybersecurity sectors. The upcoming Phase Two application submission on February 29 will outline the diverse and robust suite of projects to foster new businesses and commercialization in Tulsa’s tech landscape.

“This is a validation that if you’re in Tulsa if you’re in Oklahoma, it’s really about the region,” said Burris. “If you’re in the region doing this work and helping build our tech ecosystem, then this is a validation that we are on the right track.”

Tori Burris will speak at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, January 10, 2024. The event will be open to members and guests in person at 36 Degrees North (36 E. Cameron St. in Tulsa) and via ZOOM. Burris will share valuable insights into the future of Tulsa’s tech sector and the opportunities ahead.

“Investors will have better visibility on deal flow, both startups and IP being developed in the area, than your VC peers outside of the region,” said Burris. “This is an opportunity to gain more insight into what is developing so venture capitalists regionally can take advantage of this opportunity.”


The Oklahoma Advantage with SSBCI

The State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), a longstanding program, received increased funding through the CARES Act, with allocations directed to each state based on guidelines from the US Treasury. In Oklahoma, these funds were strategically invested in various venture capital funds to nurture the state’s growing venture capital market. Over the past five years, the number of venture capital firms in Oklahoma has multiplied, showcasing the region’s emerging entrepreneurial landscape. The Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) played a pivotal role in distributing SSBCI dollars to several funds, including allocations to Cortado Ventures and Boyd Street Ventures. This initiative reflects a concerted effort to stimulate innovation and economic growth within Oklahoma’s business ecosystem. On December 13, Managing Partners from Cortado Ventures and Boyd Street Ventures will speak to members of the Oklahoma Venture Forum about venture capital in Oklahoma.

After college, Nathaniel Harding embarked on a career in a prominent oil and gas company that later led him to take over and successfully sell the family business. Subsequently, he founded his own oil and gas exploration company, where he adeptly applied technology to innovate within the industry. Alongside his entrepreneurial endeavors, Harding served in the Air Force, deploying to Afghanistan in 2012 and contributing to logistics and geospatial intelligence. Balancing roles as a reservist and an entrepreneur from 2009 to 2017, Harding later diversified into technology investments, laying the groundwork for establishing Cortado Ventures—a testament to his dedication to supporting and investing in innovative ventures.

Cortado Ventures invests in efficient businesses that leverage technology to scale in the Fintech, Biotech, Aerospace, Ag Tech, Energy Tech, Manufacturing, and Logistics sectors. For entrepreneurs looking for an investment, Harding recommends they visit their website at to see if they would be a good fit. While not widely known, they offer free executive coaching through our partners at Magellan Executive Partners.

“That’s a critical piece, I think, because those early years of forming a company can be lonely,” said Nathaniel Harding, Managing Partner at Cortado Ventures. “A lot of times, you don’t even have a board yet. Or if you do have a board, the board covers a lot of things in terms of governance and strategy, but not a lot of things in terms of professional development.”

James Spann’s career journey reflects a diverse and entrepreneurial spirit, starting with his time as a Navy ROTC graduate from the University of Oklahoma. With nearly seven years in the Marine Corps and subsequent corporate roles, Spann thrived in structured environments but always embraced high-risk challenges, showcasing an entrepreneurial mindset. In 2016, after three decades in corporate America, he recognized an opportunity to address the need for more support for innovative startups emerging from OU. This realization led to the founding of Boyd Street Ventures in 2021, a venture capital firm focused on supporting Oklahoma startups. Spann and co-founder Jeff Moore launched the firm with a mission to build meaningful partnerships, remaining nimble to market opportunities. Their dedication culminated in establishing Fund 1, a $25 million capital fund that propels innovations to new heights in the state. Spann’s journey highlights years of research, collaboration, and hard work, emphasizing his commitment to fostering entrepreneurship in Oklahoma.

“We have a strong commitment to supporting minority, female, and socially economically disabled founders, socioeconomic and disadvantaged founders through our Boyd Street Endowment,” said James Spann, Jr. MBA, Founder and Managing Partner of Boyd Street Ventures. “One of the things that I saw when I was looking at entrepreneurs in Oklahoma, and we had a lot of minority startups that couldn’t get access to capital, so we found that the Boyd Street Endowment Fund. And the Endowment Fund is specifically focused on investing in minority and female founders in the state of Oklahoma.”

One unique aspect about Boyd Street Ventures many people don’t know is they’ve built the venture studio model inside of their fund to help companies to scale, and they provide de-risking strategy and operational guidance for their portfolio companies.

By the time of the upcoming Power Lunch event, Harding said they plan to have launched fund two with 80 million in capital. He plans to share a preview of Cortado Ventures’ focus for 2024 at the event.

“Anybody who wants to invest alongside us or any founders who want to learn how they can pitch our team, then we have a lot of dry powder, as they say in the business,” said Harding. “We have a lot of deployable capital that we’re looking to invest over the next two or three years.”

“We’re looking forward to generating strong returns for our investors over the next several years and doing great things in the state of Oklahoma and for Oklahoma entrepreneurs,” said Spann. “We’re not stopping with Fund 1. We are pushing forward to Fund 2 and going to make a lot of great things happen in Oklahoma.”

“I think most know Oklahoma has some of the lowest tax rates and some of the best tax incentives in the nation in our small state,” said Spann. “And I’ve talked about that as I’ve gone out to the marketplace to try and raise money to educate others about Oklahoma because we have a lot of great things going on in the state. And this SSBCI funding that we receive from venture capital allows us to boast that to the rest of the world. And the state offers companies a low cost of doing business, a low cost of living for employees, tax rebates that reduce tax burdens even further.”

Nathaniel Harding and James Spann will be part of a panel discussion at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, December 13, 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. The event will be open to members and guests in person at Metro Tech Spring Lake Campus (1900 Springlake Drive in Oklahoma City) and online via ZOOM.

“OVF is a great place to regularly network with other investors of different stages and sectors, but also innovators, people who support ecosystem builders, people who support developing this market for entrepreneurs,” said Harding. “So, really, it’s the best place to have those intersections between all three.”

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.”

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