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.”

Building Back a Better Oklahoma

Oklahoma City has a rich history in the bioscience industry and economy, dating back to organizations such as the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF). To further develop the bioscience sector in the state, a group of partners, including the Oklahoma City Chamber, came together to explore the possibility of creating a bioscience corridor between Norman, Oklahoma City, and Stillwater. However, over time, the organization recognized the need to reexamine its model and focus on external storytelling and local support.

As part of this process, the organization brought in local expert Gene Hopper of Mettise to conduct a grassroots analysis of bioscience opportunities in Oklahoma. This analysis coincided with the launch of the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better program, which aims to fund projects expanding capacity and addressing domestic challenges in various industries.

“Through a collaboration of many, many community partners, including the innovation district, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Echo Investment Capital, I mean so many partners, I’m not going to give you all of them, but so many partners, Stephenson Cancer Center, really conceptualized eight projects we thought would sort of lend themselves to expanding the bioscience capacity of the region but also meeting some domestic challenges that we saw inhibiting Oklahoma’s growth and the nation’s growth in this space,” said Jeff Seymour, Executive Vice President of Economic Development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

Jeff Seymour has been working in economic development since 2006. He started out studying business at a junior college in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, and had the opportunity to intern at the Blackwell Chamber, where he discovered his passion for economic development and community engagement. He has held several economic development positions, including his current role as a leader of the Oklahoma City Chamber, where he leads business recruitment, helps existing businesses grow and be sustainable, and leads research on retail recruitment, aerospace support, and innovation. Seymour is particularly passionate about the work he does in innovation and inclusive economic development.

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber is a unique organization that serves as an economic and community development leader. They go beyond the traditional role of a Chamber of Commerce and focus on economic development leadership, community development leadership, and overall community enhancement. They are an umbrella organization with various functional areas such as economic development, government relations, marketing and events, education, convention and visitors bureau, and criminal justice.

“We do a lot of things that really says, ‘What does the landscape of Oklahoma City look like today?’” said Seymour. “Where can we and should we exert influence with the power of our memberships and our investors in our community partnerships? And how can we make Central Oklahoma better?’”

As the analysis for OKBio was concluding, the EDA Build Back Better regional challenge grants had come online. Their grant proposal was successful, and the group was awarded one of 60 phase-one grants out of 529 applicants. This grant has allowed them to examine several projects further and determine which ones should move forward to phase two. The grant’s focus is primarily on capacity building in the region, aiming to promote growth in the bioscience industry.

“Four are in partnership with the University of Oklahoma,” Seymour summarized. “Those are bio startup programs, reaching deep into the community to find new founders and ideas, bringing those to market. Bioprocessing core facility, which is a partnership with the OU Engineering department to produce both a stronger talent pipeline, but also a stronger partnership between industry and the university to bring IP to the market. Center for Development Therapeutics and a clinical trial center. Those are two projects at Stephenson Cancer Center. And then a bioscience workforce, biopharmaceutical workforce training center in partnership with the innovation district that will be housed inside Innovation Hall.”

Jennifer Hankins will join Seymour from Tulsa in a panel discussion on the Build Back Better grants. Jennifer Hankins serves as Chief of Strategic Partnerships for Tulsa Innovation Labs (TIL). She joined the team in January 2020 and brought with her nearly ten years of direct economic development experience. Working to convene myriad stakeholders across multiple industries, she is responsible for helping shape TIL’s strategic direction, organization, mission, investments and, in particular, is responsible for securing and managing its cross-sector partnerships with corporations, philanthropies, and other entities. 

“I think what I’m hoping to share is that A, give a little bit more of a sneak peek behind-the-scenes on what’s embedded in this Build Back Better grant,” said Seymour. “What I think we’re trying to do right now is continue to foster opportunities for partnership. One of the things that has been really prevalent in our conversations around the bioscience industry is that so much of the IP and patent creation that’s occurred has been on the research side. It’s at the research institution’s side. And we really want to continue to use this as a catalyst to foster private sector partnerships.”

The panel discussion for Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members will take place on Wednesday, February 8, 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. Seymour said OVF is one of the vehicles for us to build community and share ideas to see and get a peek behind the tent on what’s going on in the economy.

“Everything we all do is about community,” said Seymour. “Hopefully to think about some of the things that are coming at us that are next generation. And I think a chance for us to have collaborations among funders and founders to also think about ways that we can deploy capital and support the overall ecosystem.”

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.

Thick Descriptions at Project 3810

For December’s Project 3810 profile, I visited Thick Descriptions. Thick Descriptions provides educational resources to help communities better understand themselves and each other.

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.”

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