Conference brings it home

Published: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 7:00 am By: Brian Brus

The Journal Record

OKLAHOMA CITY - The presence of 300 venture capitalists in Oklahoma City this week is a rare opportunity to draw national attention to local business investment opportunities, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams said.

And the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds annual conference is even more valuable because of the recession, he said.

"Nationally, early-stage capital, I wouldn't say has dried up, but it has retrenched a lot because people have lost wealth," Williams said.

"But by the same token, there are fewer opportunities in the marketplace, especially when you look at the East Coast and West Coast," he said. "So there are fewer resources but fewer opportunities. And to us, that's the advantage we have now: We get to show off our opportunities that these people historically have probably flown over."

The NASVF conference began late Monday and will run through Wednesday at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. The event brings together leaders of angel, seed and early-stage venture capital along with university technology transfer and economic development professionals to discuss angel investing, innovation and capital, entrepreneurial development, capital formation in underserved markets and best practices in the industry.

At Wednesday's luncheon, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack is scheduled to give the conference's keynote address. While Vilsack is in the state, he is scheduled to stop in El Reno at Redlands Community College at 9 a.m. Wednesday for a community meeting as part of the Obama administration's Rural Tour. Vilsack will share information with residents about the Agriculture Department's programs to revitalize and rebuild rural America and ask for feedback. Vilsack is also scheduled to lead Rural Tour events with other top administration officials over the coming weeks in Nebraska and New Mexico.

The NASVF is a nonprofit organization with 600 individual members worldwide. The organization promotes investments in seed and early-stage companies by supporting entrepreneurship and job creation through the formation of innovation capital programs. Oklahoma City bid on the national conference two years ago.

A perusal of session topics quickly reveals a common thread throughout the conference. Examples include "Where Are the Angel Investment Opportunities?," "Encouraging Entrepreneurs in Difficult Times," "From Research to Startup: When Funding is Tight," and "Overcoming State Economic Development Woes."

Williams anticipates the event will lead to local funding opportunities sooner or later.

"We get to show them Oklahoma City, and we make sure they're exposed to what's going on in this community and our venues here," he said. "Any opportunities related directly to them - meaning we can show them what's going on in our research facilities, where they can apply venture seed capital. And lastly, we get to form relations, so down the road we can continue to market to them and to put projects in front of them.

"So it's really a coup for us to have this kind of conference here because it so closely aligns with what we want to do in economic development," he said. "This is real synergy."

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