The Oklahoma City Co-working Collaborative, a downtown business incubator for software developers and creative professionals, is closing its doors in response to what its founders call a vengeful legal attack by U.S. Fleet Tracking over a refusal to relocate to space in far northwest Oklahoma City.
Sam Sims, spokesman for U.S. Fleet Tracking, said Monday neither the company nor a business incubator started by the company's chief executive officer, Jerry Hunter, would be commenting on the litigation against the collaborative (also known as “okcCoCo”).
“We are confident in the courts, and we cannot comment on any litigation,” Sims said.
As for allegations by collaborative founders that the dispute was tied to Blue Print for Business, a business accelerator incubation firm founded by Hunter, Sims added, “We're excited about it (Blue Print for Business). It doesn't have anything to do with okcCoCo.”
The lawsuit by Hunter and U.S. Fleet Tracking, first filed June 4, alleges that the collaborative sent the firm an email Jan. 25 asking it to help raise $25,000 so that the operation could successfully relocate from its offices at 723 N Hudson Ave.
During the online fundraising campaign, collaborative founders told The Oklahoman and other news organizations they hoped to stay in or near downtown, and they initially planned to lease a location at NW 10 and Harvey Avenue.
The U.S. Fleet Tracking filing, however, alleges the collaborative's officers told Hunter they wanted to lease a space at NW 68 and Classen, and Hunter then contributed $23,000 for that facility. U.S. Fleet Tracking alleges the collaborative then halted its operation.
A response by Shawn Roberts, attorney for the collaborative's founders, denies the allegations in the U.S. Fleet Tracking lawsuit, noting the contribution was never tied to the operation relocating to a specific location.
Collaborative co-founder Derrick Parkhurst said conversations before the U.S. Fleet Tracking contribution consisted of a tour of the company's headquarters, an introduction to Hunter through communications officer Sims and seeing a display of Hunter's Lamborghini car collection.
Parkhurst said U.S. Fleet Tracking, a frequent sponsor of Thunder basketball games (including a shirt giveaway during the 2011 NBA playoffs), was only promised sponsorship opportunities in exchange for the contribution.
Only after the contribution, Parkhurst said, did he and his partners Chad Henderson and Tommy Yi learn about Blue Print for Business, a firm co-owned by Hunter and Guy Madison and launched Feb. 1. After unsuccessful efforts to secure the NW 10 location for the collaborative, the site at NW 68 and Classen was considered, Parkhurst said.
When the site at NW 68 and Classen didn't work, and with the original office closing, Parkhurst said U.S. Fleet Tracking representatives sought to have the collaborative reopen at Rockwell Plaza in conjunction with Blue Print for Business.
“It's a new business model being adapted around the country,” Parkhurst said. “The accelerator invests $20,000 to $30,000 in exchange for equity in a company. And it lasts for about three months. … They have five companies they've funded that are located along Northwest Expressway — in the same spot they were trying to get us to relocate.”
Parkhurst said except for one person who voiced “no opinion,” the collaborative's membership unanimously rejected the Rockwell Plaza site, saying they wished to remain downtown. Parkhurst said the rent requested by U.S. Fleet Tracking for the Rockwell Plaza site for one year totaled the amount the company had contributed.
“It's a very difficult location,” Parkhurst said. “We've always been in downtown Oklahoma City and are a part of the downtown culture.”
Parkhurst said the collaborative never ceased operations, and did reopen at 723 W Sheridan Ave. on Film Row in July. He said several settlements were proposed but that Hunter refused to consider any such options.
“We think this whole situation is motivated by Mr. Hunter,” Parkhurst said. “He's upset that we turned down his request that we locate with his new business. So he's sticking it to us.”
Yi and Henderson agreed with Parkhurst — the collaborative's demise is prompted only by the inability to wage an expensive legal fight against a much bigger company.
“It's sad to be at the end of a journey,” Henderson said, “not because we weren't on the right path, but because we were unexpectedly pushed off the path by someone bigger.”
About those involved
The Oklahoma City Co-working Collaborative was established three years ago and provided the city's creative and technology professionals a work space where they could rent desks, cubicles and offices, as well as a space for meetings, classes and discussions. U.S. Fleet Tracking is a GPS tracking manufacturer providing Internet-based access to live vehicle tracking and asset management. The company is based at NW 156 and May Avenue.