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Anita Ly: Generating Success for Entrepreneurs

I wrote a profile on Anita Ly about Generating Success for Entrepreneurs for the Oklahoma Venture Forum.

As the Managing Director of gener8tor in Oklahoma City, Anita Ly is committed to helping entrepreneurs succeed with gener8tor’s national investment accelerator program. Ly started her professional career as a scientist in biotech pharma in California before moving to Oklahoma to attend graduate school at the University of Oklahoma. While at OU, she became involved with the Oklahoma Catalyst programs as they were looking for someone with a STEM background, who was all about women empowerment, and entrepreneurship. This led to her discovery of her passion for working with founders and telling their stories, leading to her decision to pivot her career to focus on helping founders. After finishing her schooling at OU and working in venture capital at Atento Capital in Tulsa, she joined gener8tor to help support and build a community around founders in Oklahoma City. The gener8tor platform includes more than 75 programs spanning startup accelerators, corporate programming, speaker series, conferences, skills accelerators, and fellowships.

“Most of our startups don’t just go there for funding,” said Anita Ly. “We’re known for the wide breadth network that we can provide to our founders through mentor swarms as well as investors swarms. Our goal is to set them up for success while having a white glove concierge approach.”

Applications for entrepreneurs are open until mid-January, and Ly has been actively recruiting and talking to founders to let people know that gener8tor is in town. Ly said the most rewarding part of working with gener8tor is seeing the successes of several types of founders.

“No founder comes into the program at the exact same stage of development or having the same types of issues, and it’s really exciting to help them pinpoint what they need to focus on in order to hit that next milestone,” said Ly. “Then seeing the excitement on their faces when they are able to finally raise that next round.”

Aside from the Investment Accelerator program, gener8tor offers other product lines that Ly will discuss. They’re not just focused on Oklahoma City but on supporting all of Oklahoma and companies that can give back to the local community. Ly would like to have all Oklahoma Venture Forum members come to learn about gener8tor’s different offerings.

“We are constantly looking for not just investors but mentors,” said Ly. “That could be anyone who works directly with founders, has been a founder, or has a unique set of experiences that might play a good hand with our potential cohort. Everyone can be a mentor, and we really want people to feel like they have something of value to give, and at the same time, there is so much they can learn from mentoring other founders as well.”

Anita Ly will speak to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, January 11, 2023. The event will be held at The Venue at Crew in Downtown Oklahoma City from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm and will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. Ly believes the forum is an excellent place for those that want to be involved in the venture capital world.

“Those that have always been curious about getting involved, this is a great way to have those monthly power lunches and meet really incredible people to learn about what’s going on in the ecosystem and having a network where they can get together with other like-minded individuals,” said Ly.

Allison Conti and Michael LaBrie: Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Allison Conti and Michael LaBrie discuss Protecting Your Intellectual Property in this article I wrote for the Oklahoma Venture Forum.

Founder and CEO of Watkins-Conti Products, Inc., Allison Watkins-Conti is a recognized leader, inventor, and speaker. Raised in an entrepreneurial environment, she witnessed the formation and creation of sustainable businesses and has experience in many facets of business management. In 2015, Conti conceived the solution for an issue that affects an estimated one in three women. She designed, patented, engineered, and manufactured, Yōni.Fit, a nonsurgical, intravaginal device for women suffering from stress urinary incontinence. The device is entering the FDA approval process. Her company was awarded Most Promising New Venture of the Year through the Oklahoma Venture Forum.

“We’ve done clinical trials at Stanford and NYU and Thomas Jefferson University, and I’ve filed intellectual property utility patents,” said Allison Conti. “Right now, I have five utility patents issued in the United States, and those have been filed in 17 countries. Then I have got three trademarks and two design patents as well.”

Speaking on the business side of intellectual property, Conti compared having these protections to owning real estate. They increase the value of your business and set up a picket fence around your idea so that nobody else can steal it.

Mike LaBrie is a shareholder with McAfee & Taft in Oklahoma City.  He has been practicing intellectual property law since 1994 and was a mechanical engineer for Schlumberger before attending law school. LaBrie is active in patent prosecution, patent portfolio management, trademarks, copyrights, and software and is the leader of the firm’s Intellectual Property Group and Biotech Industry Group.

“The key to monetizing the idea or the invention is to protect it,” said Mike LaBrie. “Otherwise, if there’s no intellectual property protection and you roll the product out, then anyone can copy it and basically take it and commercialize it themselves. And so, the intellectual property, it creates obstacles for competitors, and it provides long-term protection so that you can commercialize it, go through the FDA process, license it, sell the product, those sorts of things.”

“If you have to raise money, people want to ensure that whatever their funding is protected,” Conti added. “Jenny Martel is the head of Global Brand Protection for Colgate Palmolive, and she sits on my board, and she’s just constantly talking about trademarking and how important it is because even if you roll a product out in the United States, and it’s, for example, not trademarked in China, they can go and counterfeit your goods and pretend they’re you.”

LaBrie agreed with Conti and added he had seen increased problems lately, especially in China and some other countries, and trouble can arise in several different situations.

“One is where you have customs issues,” said LaBrie. “If you have a product manufactured in China, for example, but you don’t have a trademark registered in China, then you can have difficulty exporting it out to the United States, in addition to people just registering your trademark in China and manufacturing and selling goods under that name.”

One of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can make is rolling the product out or disclosing the product without first filing a patent application, said LaBrie.

“In the United States, you have one year from the first public disclosure to file a patent application,” said LaBrie. “Other countries require what’s called absolute novelty, meaning you have to file a patent application before the first public disclosure or commercial sale.  So, if you disclose it too early, you may miss the one-year bar in the United States, but you may also be prohibited from filing foreign patent applications in other countries.”

“I think that founders really make a mistake of trying to do everything themselves and not hiring the best lawyers,” said Conti. “For me, it’s non-negotiable. I’m going to hire the best lawyers for every contract.”

Even if entrepreneurs do not have the funds to protect their intellectual property fully, LaBrie said they should have a strategy. They should know what they are going to do, when they will do it, and when they will file for the patent and trademark applications.

Conti and LaBrie will speak to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, December 14, 2022. The event will be held at The Venue at Crew in Downtown Oklahoma City from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm and will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. Both Conti and LaBrie recommend attending the monthly event.

“I’ve met a lot of different companies that I do business with now through the Oklahoma Venture Forum, so it’s a great networking opportunity,” said Conti. “And even if we didn’t do business, I’ve learned a lot from people in the conversations and met a lot of new, interesting businesses and different vendors that can help. For example, an insurance company that I work with now that it’s hard to get clinical trials insured, that I was connected through the Oklahoma Venture Forum. I highly recommend attending all of the luncheons for those reasons.”

“I think something that stands out at OVF is the diversity of backgrounds. You have entrepreneurs, you have service providers, you have funders, you have a lot of different resources that can be valuable regardless of what your company does,” said LaBrie. “I think the diversity of backgrounds will help make people successful and great contacts.”

Tyler Powell and Tom Robins: Keeping Politically Aware for your Business

Tyler Powell and Tom Robins discuss Keeping Politically Aware for your Business in this article I wrote for the Oklahoma Venture Forum.

Tom Robins is the president and founder of the Oklahoma Innovative Technology Alliance (OITA).  Robins described OITA as the home and voice for Oklahoma Innovation and Technology, where their number one priority is creating a workforce talent pipeline for their members as they grow. Previously, Robins spent time in D.C. after graduating from college and went to Utah State, got his master’s in political management from the George Washington University, worked for the Senate judiciary and other projects in Washington D.C. on political campaigns. In Oklahoma, he was the Deputy Secretary of Energy for the previous governor, helping advise and handle energy policy and all of its forms for the governor.  

Tyler Powell owns the firm CSS Partner, assisting in government affairs and political strategy, helping clients of all sizes, including OITA. Before starting CSS Partner in 2017, Powell was the Deputy Secretary of Environment, where he met Robins. As the Deputy Secretary, Tyler oversaw the implementation of the Oklahoma Comprehensive Water Plan, the Water for 2060 Act, and the Lesser Prairie Chicken Range Wide Conservation Plan.  

“Policy and politics impact in the innovation technology industry, but it might not be something that people think about,” said Tom Robins.  

For the Oklahoma Venture Forum, Powell and Robins will host a panel discussion along with Representative Nicole Miller and Senator Julia Kirt. Members will get an update on what happened in the elections, which will be the night before the Power Lunch Event. Topics will include the implications of the elections, both for D.C. and locally, and how that’ll impact over the next couple of years, innovation, and technology.  

“I think obviously it’s going to be super topical given kind of it’s the day after the election,” said Tyler Powell. “What will the next two and four years look like? What are those issues that, if I’ve got a business, I need to be thinking about, or in the case of stuff that we’re going to be promoting, how is that going to go through and change based off the current dynamics of what the legislature looks like?”  

Kirt, Miller, Powell, and Robins will speak to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, November 9, 2022. The event will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM.  

“OVF brings together investors, entrepreneurs, business leaders, innovation and technology leaders, and engaging and educating, engaging elected officials or policymakers is an important opportunity for that community,” said Robins. “We can learn from one another.”

Kris Murray: Growing Through Acquisition

Kris Murray talks about Growing Through Acquisition in this profile article I wrote for the Oklahoma Venture Forum.

Kris Murray’s entrepreneurial journey began in college when a friend suggested they should start a web development company. While in high school and college, Murray was interested in web development, video production, graphic design, and how to code, but throughout most of his college career, he was a biology major. Before making a significant life pivot, Murray had some terms.

“I was like, ‘Sure, we’ll start a company if you secure the first client,’” said Kris Murray. “And essentially, I threw some numbers at him, like, ‘If you can kind of guarantee that both of us will make X amount of money for the first year, I’ll jump in this crazy idea with you,’ and like two weeks later; he had all the stuff secured. He had sold to different people and secured a lump sum of money and a retainer covering our living expenses.”

As time progressed, Murray’s original business partner wanted to exit, so Murray bought him out and then merged with a friend’s video production company, where they were outsourcing all of their video work. They joined forces and created a new brand called Spark.

“At the time, people’s choices were to hire an ad agency, where typical ad agencies had not kind of caught up with the changes of digital media, so they were billing high hourly rates and didn’t really know how to engage new media, or hire a person internally and have to pay their salary, pay for their equipment, pay for their health insurance, and stuff like that,” said Murray. “We were the no-brainer choice because we were cheaper than both options available to them, and it was like, hey, if we hate these guys, we can fire them because they’re essentially a contractor, and we can move in a different direction. So again, we saw pretty quick success with that. I think our goal was to get like 20 clients, and we met that goal within two weeks.”

With Spark, Murray loved they were helping solve unique problems for people. He found companies would be great at providing their goods and services to people, but they didn’t know how to connect with potential customers, and that’s where Spark excelled.

“We had a client early on say essentially we were the best investment they had ever made in marketing, and that was like a big moment for me,” said Murray. “When I started realizing that people see us as an investment, this is a partnership, this isn’t a typical contract engagement, and this isn’t a service. They feel like we are jointly moving towards their shared success.”

Murray knew Spark’s next phase of growth would be through acquisitions. Their first acquisition was Scissortail Media. Murray admired the company’s high-end impactful work. Through circumstances, the owner of Scissortail Media had started a virtual reality software platform and was looking to pursue that avenue. The creative and storytelling aspect of video production was an area Spark needed to grow, so they acquired them to get the talent, equipment, and proprietary story craft process.

“We did an acqui-hire, where we hired all the staff,” said Murray. “Whatever Scissortail Media’s best year was, we doubled that in the first year of our acquisition. We gave all the staff a raise, we kept everybody on through the transition, and we carried that through with our future acquisitions, is we always tried to retain the entire team.”

For the following acquisitions, they used the Traction system, an entrepreneurial operating system, to help explore core values, systems, processes, and what is needed to get to the next phase. Murray identified Casey Cornett with Cornett Marketing and later Studio Flight.

“With all of our acquisitions, we always did cash deals, where we never got into debt because of acquisitions,” said Murray. “I wanted to have an agency that was working citywide, statewide, nationally, globally, and by the time we consolidated the brands and everything, we had great local clients, we had great statewide clients, we had great national clients, and we had great global clients. In all service areas that we were a part of, we were, in some ways top of that, working with top-tier clients. We were getting top-tier clients to work with us, so it was the completion of the original vision.”

Kris Murray will speak to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, October 12, 2022. The event will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM.

“My advice would be a lot of people think that they need seed capital to get started, and for some things, you do need seed capital, but I would encourage people to market test their idea and do as much as they can to bootstrap whatever product or service they’re doing, and then once they have marketed tested their service or product, and they have a good idea of what the demand will be, then if they need capital, do growth capital,” said Murray. “We never did any kind of investment, so we bootstrapped everything. Honestly, I’ve got friends that have done capital rounds, saying, ‘I wish we had bootstrapped things,’ because one thing that capital does is it accelerates all of your problems. Money accelerates everything, so if things are going good, it accelerates things, but if things are not figured out or going well, it can run you off a cliff pretty fast.”

Ryan Coe: Creating a Flow for Innovation

Ryan Coe talks about Creating a Flow for Innovation in this article I wrote for the Oklahoma Venture Forum.

Ryan Coe has been in the oil and gas industry his entire life, the fifth generation in his family line. Where Coe is now in energy was not the path he expected for himself. Straight out of college, he went to work at Chesapeake.  

“I got comfortable with mashing together data sets and applying them towards my specific discipline, which was land, and that not only gave a ton of support to our land team to be able to be more efficient, but it also really sparked a massive passion that I had no idea that I possessed until this opportunity came along,” said Ryan Coe. “It gave me the ability to provide creative problem-solving into my day-to-day routine, and it’s what’s been driving me since that moment. I’ve been incorporating technology into most of the things I do regularly here at Flogistix, and it’s been a wild ride, frustrating, but I love it.”  

Coe is now the Corporate Product Manager at Flogistix. Primarily, Flogistix is a compression service company that’s incorporated innovative technology to optimize its fleet and the runtime and efficiency of its operators. His role includes reviewing Flogistix’s products and seeing, from an industry expert perspective, where’s the application, what should be changed, what shouldn’t be changed, and helping facilitate the best development and product fit they can achieve.  

For companies looking to advance and innovate with technology, Coe said the best thing they can do is create an environment where their employees feel comfortable and are not afraid to ask questions. 

“They’re not afraid to come up with those weird ideas that they may be concerned, “What is the person next to me going to think about it if I say, ‘Oh, this is a way to solve a problem,’ and it’s just off the wall crazy?” I have always encouraged people when they have an idea, talk about it, bring it up,” said Coe. “If you’re doing something monotonous or repetitive and you think there’s a better way to do something, there probably is a better way to do something.”  

Coe also added that people should be confident in the value they add to your company because not letting people think and express their thoughts and creativity hampers the organization. See what you can solve using technology versus, “Let’s just continue to do it the same way because we’re afraid to learn something new.”  

With the EPA’s concern about fugitive emissions, the next facet for Flogistix is trying to answer and solve some of those problems because it’s massive. Thousands of wells are outdated, so they’re some of the biggest emitters.  

“It’s a much bigger problem than people realize, but we are incredibly confident that we know how to address it,” said Coe. “We’re always developing new solutions to make things more efficient on our end and the customer side. I have no idea where the next step is, but I know that it will be in the energy space, and I know that it will involve technology and creativity.”  

Ryan Coe will speak to Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members on Wednesday, September 22, 2022. Coe was introduced to OVF last year, and while he initially didn’t know what to think of the forum, he’s come to see OVF as a great way to build a network of companies looking out for each other. The event will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM.  

“It’s incredibly cool to bring some of these smaller organizations together that are all kind of fighting a common battle, trying to get established, trying to figure out what to do to give themselves an advantage and to be able to come together sort of as a consortium and collaborate amongst each other,” said Coe.

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