When we talk about building a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Oklahoma, people nod their heads in agreement.
It’s not the type of statement that you can argue with after all, especially when virtually all net new job creation in our country over the past 20-plus years has come from young companies.
But what is a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, really?
There’s the California model, with its legacy of an abundance of early stage investment capital. Or the Boston model, with its emphasis on technology readily spun out from the region’s multitude of scientific and research institutions such as MIT. And then there’s the rest of us.
We’re putting our own spin on building an environment of innovation here in Oklahoma.
Consider the story of CleanNG, a Tulsa-based company that makes liner-less carbon fiber fuel tanks for compressed natural gas (CNG).
Co-founders Matt Villarreal and Michael Tate got the idea for the tank when they were students at Oklahoma State University and set out to build a Formula 1 race car that ran on alternative fuels to compete with other student teams from clubs around the world.
As they worked on their engine, the two students came to understand that fuel storage tanks and fueling stations were holding people back from pursing CNG vehicles. They had what Villarreal describes as a “crazy idea” for a liner-less fuel tank.
Villarreal used the idea for his class projects. He and Tate participated in the Governor’s Cup, won second place in OSU’s Riata Business Plan competition, and kept going.
Now, three years later, CleanNG’s liner-less natural gas tank has completed federal safety testing for mobile fueling station applications. Four tanks are in a pilot project with a customer. The firm holds two patents and is moving into voluntary industry standards testing for in-vehicle tanks — on the path for a full-scale launch.