Q&A with the Chamber's Jeff Seymour and Evan Fay on gBETA coming to OKCPublished: Friday, July 23, 2021 By: Chamber Staff
Nationally ranked startup accelerator gener8tor along with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and several Oklahoma City-area partners, including American Fidelity Assurance Company, Inasmuch Foundation, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, Oklahoma State University Foundation, Square Deal Capital and the University of Oklahoma, recently announced they will offer two annual gBETA pre-accelerator programs in OKC beginning in October to help accelerate the growth of startup companies in OKC. VeloCity staff sat down with the Chamber’s Jeff Seymour, executive vice president of economic development, and Evan Fay, program manager of innovation and entrepreneurship, to learn more about gBETA and its expected impact on Oklahoma City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
VeloCityOKC: Tell us how the idea of gBETA came about.
Evan Fay: We have a lot of really great resources to serve entrepreneurs, founders and small businesses here. But the unique thing about gBETA for us was just that they operate on a national stage, thus allowing participant companies to have access to a national mentor pool, a national customer base, to national sources of investment capital. This doesn’t necessarily go above and beyond what is being done here by local support organization, but supplements what is being done here. It broadens the pool of resources for entrepreneurs and Oklahoma City companies. And hopefully this acts as an attraction mechanism for some founders that maybe have applied for our program but don’t live in Oklahoma City.
How did you hear about gener8tor?
Evan Fay: They are the highest-ranked program of this type that still has kind of a Midwestern feel. We were introduced to the gener8tor team through leadership from local coworking space StarSpace46. The gener8tor team came here just to see what Oklahoma City was like, and I met up with them while they were here. That kind of started the conversation over the last two years of what would it look like to have a program here: ‘What is involved in funding it? What is involved in helping you all start day one with as many relationships and kind of a road map for success?’ So, it was kind of a combination of primarily research and relationships that has led us to this point.”
Why is the Chamber leading this work?
Jeff Seymour: From a Chamber perspective, we know that leading in economic development must include leading partnerships and initiatives focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and new sector development. Especially coming out of the changes of the last 18 months, we know those economies that can pivot, be iterative and develop new internal growth will be the winners. We feel that taking a lead in filling gaps, including finding and launching new programs to source a bigger pipeline of ideas, was a good position for our efforts, running in tandem with supporting other local programs. We see our work as collaborative and representative of bigger picture conversations the community must have around economic growth.
Why do you think there is a need for something like this in Oklahoma City?
Evan Fay: Within Oklahoma City we know there is a need for more resources to serve all types and stages of start-up companies. No one program can provide all types of assistance to meet the needs of entrepreneurs. Examples of gaps we want to continue to address includes helping local students develop a business plan for their idea, helping a founder through the customer discovery process, or preparing founders for a capital raise and making investor introductions to a broad base of funders. One of the most important pieces of the pipeline is creating a framework where people feel that if they have an idea, there is a place where they can go to put it through its paces – to test their hypothesis. gBETA will provide that tried-and-true framework in addition to programs that exist here. Particularly exciting to us is there will be companies that are incubated from the universities that go through this program. So, we will act as more of a pipeline for college students that may have built a business during their college tenure to now get plugged in to the Oklahoma City startup community in a more formal way.
Jeff Seymour: I agree with Evan’s comments; we have great local partners doing work in the entrepreneurial/innovation environment (i2E, Stitchcrew/the Thunder Launchpad, StarSpace 46, etc.) but to be successful long term, we have to have more resources to help more types of ideas get launched, funded and stay here locally. No one program can serve all the needs in the market.
Once gBETA is fully operational, how will it work?
Jeff Seymour: There are a couple of different components. One is we hire a full-time director who is out in the market all the time looking for new ideas and networking and building rapport in the overall marketplace. He or she is not meant to be in the office but rather in the community, building this space and being partners with all the existing players.
Evan Fay: Once the director position has been filled, there will be an application process for companies to go through, which is pretty competitive. They interview the applicants and then admit five companies into the program. They will build a mentor team around those companies, followed by targeted programming focused on fund raising, customer acquisition, e-commerce and ways to deliver the product or service. Upon graduation, there will be a demo day where the community can come and see these companies present their product or service. There will be a nationwide network of investors, both in person and virtual, who will attend that event.
How will gBETA impact Oklahoma City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem?
Jeff Seymour: gBETA is meant to be complementary. We see it as being present in a lot of things we are all present at, bringing some ideas from other markets where gener8tor operates. And then hopefully, at some point, turn to Oklahoma City to focus on our ability to be a center of excellence in some individual technologies and think about accelerator programming long term.
Evan Fay: We certainly don’t feel like this is an end-all, be-all solution by any stretch, but we know this is a tenured program. It’s built on a scalable and repeatable model that will allow our existing resources and organizations that serve startups to specialize and keep doing what they do best. We hope founders from other markets come here, participate in the program and then realize there is a community here that wants to wrap their arms around them, keep them here and help them find customers, mentors and money, if that is what they are looking for. I think it will continue to elevate Oklahoma City as a place where entrepreneurs can grow their business. But the thing that really excites me is making sure there are as few barriers as possible to success for founders from all backgrounds.