Investing in Innovation: Oklahoma Venture Resource Council Meets in Ada, Oklahoma
By: Sunnie Dawn Baker
The Oklahoma Venture Resource Council, or OVRC, is an organization that works to increase the number of funded ventures in Oklahoma, while also providing the support they need in order to stay in Oklahoma. While they have regular meetings, in 2021 they had their first “OVRC on the Road” meeting, gathering their members in Tulsa. These “On the Road” meetings allow them to explore the resources and opportunities throughout Oklahoma. On March 23, for the first time, they had their meeting in Ada, hosted by the Ada Jobs Foundation.
The meeting was held at the East Central University Chickasaw Business and Conference Center. Approximately thirty people filled into a lecture hall to hear a panel of speakers discuss the work they are doing to support entrepreneurship. Nathaniel Harding, Managing Partner with Cortado Ventures and co-chair of the OVRC, began the meeting by talking about the three main purposes of these OVRC meetings: building relationships, advocacy, and celebrating the wins of investors and entrepreneurs. The fact that they held this meeting in Ada speaks volumes to our potential to be a major player in the state when it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation.
Speakers on the schedule included Jim Eldridge, CEO of the Ada Jobs Foundation, Jennifer McGrail, the director of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), Amarie Bartel with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Sandra Wesson with the Chickasaw Business Network, and Jake Cantrell, Scalable Investment Advisor for the Ada Jobs Foundation. Each speaker gave an update on what their organization is doing to support entrepreneurship and there was an emphasis from many of the speakers on innovation and tech startups. Specifically, Eldridge spoke about the Build to Scale grant that the Ada Jobs Foundation received and how we are working to support and encourage scalable tech startups throughout a ten-county range in rural southern Oklahoma. McGrail shared information about how the state is able to use federal funds to support innovation in the state. Bartel talked about opportunities for technology in rural communities and the upcoming efforts of the Farm Bureau to support these entrepreneurs through an incubator program. Cantrell was especially interested in speaking because, he says:
It allowed me to introduce my background and experience to a broad network of stakeholders within the Oklahoma entrepreneurial ecosystem. By sharing my expertise and the work I have done in the past, I was able to establish credibility and strengthen relationships with key stakeholders. This will facilitate future collaborations and partnerships, enabling me to better support and advise scalable tech startups in our region.
After the speakers were finished, representatives from the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations also gave an update on their efforts in the areas of entrepreneurship support and funding.
It was important to have all these individuals in the same room, having these discussions. After each presentation, there was an engaging conversation about the different initiatives that are being put forth throughout the state. It can be easy to fall into the trap of isolation, each organization relegated to their own silo. Events like this bring people together to connect as individuals while also sharing their ideas. This helps to build a stronger and better community; it is a community that extends past our city limits throughout the entire state. Cantrell explains the significance of the event as such, “My biggest takeaway from the event was the value of cross-collaboration between various stakeholders, including policy makers, investors, entrepreneurs, and support organizations, in fostering a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Meetings like this are essential to ecosystem building; in order to support the creation of scalable tech startups in rural Oklahoma, people must come together in both awareness and action. They have to know what resources are available but also be willing to move forward, whether that is through the creation of their own venture, supporting these entrepreneurs, or investing their time and/or money into these new opportunities. Because of the Ada Jobs Foundation’s Build to Scale initiative to encourage and support scalable tech startups, it was important for us to be a part of this meeting and connect with these individuals and organizations from around the state. While we had a chance to meet with others and learn about what is going on throughout Oklahoma, it also allowed the Ada Jobs Foundation to make others aware of the exciting things happening in our community. Cantrell says:
The OVRC event allowed a platform to showcase our efforts in building a supportive scalable technology startup ecosystem, creating a technology accelerator, and integrating local investors to provide access to sources of capital. Connecting with key stakeholders, founders, and sharing our initiatives enabled me to gain valuable insights, receive feedback, and create partnerships that will further enhance the impact of our programs and contribute to the overall success of our region.
Breaking down silos is essential to ecosystem building and events like the OVRC On the Road are an excellent step in the right direction. While it is necessary to become more connected and supportive within our own communities, and break down our own individual and institutional silos, it is also important to do that on a statewide scale. The more we all work together, the stronger we are, and the more successful we will be.
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