OKC has a lot to offer entrepreneurs, Chamber Forum panelists said Friday

Friday, June 26, 2015

Three Oklahoma City entrepreneurs discussed what it's like forming and working at a startup in Oklahoma City during the Chamber Forum on Friday at The Skirvin Hilton Hotel.

Panelists were Danny Maloney, CEO and co-founder of Tailwind; Craig Shimasaki, co-founder, president and CEO of Moleculera Labs; and Kenneth Knoll, chief financial officer of WeGoLook, LLC.

Shimasaki said he didn't know what to expect when he moved here from San Francisco 25 years ago and stayed. Three or four companies later, he said, he found Oklahoma's strong leadership and culture unique, as well as the lack of big egos.

"The culture of the community is one in which the people are willing to help whether they benefit or not," said Shimasaki, who, in addition to his bioscience company, has also written two books on related to his experience as a bioscience entrepreneur -- "The Business of Bioscience: What goes into making a Biotechnology Product" and "Biotechnology Entrepreneurship: Starting, Managing, and Leading Biotech Companies."

Shimasaki said the bioscience industry in the Greater Oklahoma City region is at a tipping point, and he's witnessing the birth of a bioscience hub and the recognition that there's a need for a support system in place to grow these companies -- financing, technology, support personnel, incubators and intellectual property.

Maloney, the founder of the Pinterest analytics and tech company Tailwind, said that the most important part of building his business is hiring the right people for it -- those who can be flexible with their roles and are loyal to their teams and community, noting that Tailwind has found those people in Oklahoma. But he does see a need to train more scientists and grow the state's talent pool, starting in grade school.

"We've got to start young with training the next generation of talent so there's more than enough to go around," Maloney said.

In Oklahoma City, the tech community is bigger than you think, Maloney said, and the interaction has improved immensely in the last three years due to the support of the business community and various spaces and events that have brought people together for collaboration.

WeGoLook has grown since it launched in 2009 as a company that assists buyers with inspecting their purchases before the sale goes through, whether that's in real estate, the insurance industry, automotive businesses or individual vehicles, and more. One challenge for entrepreneurs is educating a new market and introducing a new idea to people who aren't familiar with it. WeGoLook has 18,000 "lookers" all over the country, Knoll said.

Rhonda Hooper, president and CEO of Jordan Advertising and vice chair of economic development for the Chamber moderated the discussion.

Read in detail about Oklahoma City's entrepreneurship in the current issue of Velocity, "OKC: America's Startup Engine," found online at www.velocityokc.com. Don't miss this video that gives viewers an overview of Oklahoma City's startup scene.