Determined to take their startup company to the next level, entrepreneurs Nicholas Seet and Ashok Kamal are living out of an RV in Oklahoma City for the next 12 weeks while participating in local business accelerator VentureSpur.
“My first company took 10 years to get off the ground, and this time I'm shooting for five years,” said Seet. Already a seasoned entrepreneur, Seet is a professor of entrepreneurship at the University of New Mexico at Los Alamos and sold part of his first company to Yahoo in 2011. Kamal is the CEO of another startup social media marketing company in New York City.
But they've chosen Oklahoma City as the launchpad for their next startup — Sivi, a web-based platform that connects other entrepreneurs with potential investors.
“We're here to bring that focus and discipline back into the equation,” Seet said.
For the next three months, VentureSpur's Film Row loft office will be home to handful of tech startup companies that hope to secure an initial round of funding to launch their dreams. Another four companies are teleconferencing in from VentureSpur's companion accelerator program in Dallas.
Seet and Kamal hope that living in close quarters and rubbing elbows with other startups will help them launch Sivi. VentureSpur's 12-week program culminates with Pitch Day — where the companies present their business plans to a group of angel investors.
“It's a synergistic environment,” Kamal said. “The other companies are learning things from us and we are learning things from them.”
This is VentureSpur's second class of companies since it was founded as one of Oklahoma City's first business accelerators in 2011. After going through a vetting process, VentureSpur takes a stake in the companies it deems qualified for the program — typically around 10 percent — and also provides seed money for the companies.
All four of the companies that participated in VenturSpur's first class are generating revenue, although not all are profitable yet, said Kraettli L. Epperson, co-founder and managing director for VentureSpur.
The companies in VentureSpur's first fund have collectively gone on to raise more than $750,000 in investment capital since the end of the program. VentureSpur's first pitch day last November attracted more than 150 attendees, including 15 individual angel investors and representatives from eight venture capital firms.
As part of the VentureSpur's 12-week program, the startups will gain access to its stable of business mentors who will help them create a business plan and product pitches and secure financing.
“It's great being around such creative and passionate people all day — they just talk and bounce ideas off one another,” Epperson said.
Other participants in VentureSpur include SPARXlife, an educational startup with founders based in Los Angeles and New York.
The company hopes that participating in the VentureSpur program will culminate in securing a series A round of funding from investors to help get the company off the ground.
While familiar with the multitude of accelerator programs in Silicon Valley and New York City, opting for an accelerator program in Oklahoma City was novel, said SPARXlife co-founder Shannon Meairs.
“I had no idea there was anything like this in Oklahoma,” she said.
Two locally grown startups are also part of this year's VentureSpur class, including Little Fish, an application that helps marketers find their target audiences on the Internet through a unique algorithm.
Little Fish hopes the program will help bring focus to the company and help it identify its target audience, said CEO Jared Rader.
“I need all of the help I can get,” Rader said.
This year, VentureSpur has also started a new program called VentureSpur Jumpstart for newer companies that might not be as far in development as participants in VentureSpur's regular accelerator program.
“These entrepreneurs might still be working their day job and are in the earlier stages — and we understand that,” Epperson said.
Oklahoma City-based Zalongo, which founder Hal Gatewood calls an “unsocial network” is participating in VentureSpur's Jumpstart program.
Gatewood, who works days at The Oklahoma Publishing Company, The Oklahoman's parent firm, hopes the program will help him turn Zalongo from a side project into a full-time business. Zalongo is similar to Facebook, but is a private site geared primarily for families to keep in touch and plan events.
“I'm ready to learn from the mentors here and take it to the next level,” Gatewood said.