By Brian Brus
Courtesy of The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – The VentureSpur business accelerator has split into two distinct organizations to better serve the entrepreneurial markets in Oklahoma City and Dallas, Managing Director Kraettli Epperson said Thursday.
The VentureSpur brand will carry forward as VentureSpur Texas, while operations in Oklahoma will be known as LaunchOklahoma, he said. Epperson will remain attached to LaunchOklahoma as a member of the board of directors, as will prior VentureSpur board members Gabe Bass and Mike Whitaker.
The original VentureSpur has launched 11 high-tech startups since it was founded two year ago. The four most active have raised more than $1.7 million on multimillion-dollar valuations, Epperson said. The separation reflects the success of the VentureSpur concept and improves the position of the organization in raising capital, he said.
“We wanted the appeal of a distinctly Oklahoma brand,” Epperson said. “We found that sponsors and investors like to invest close to home, so having two organizations allows them to do that more clearly. Oklahoma investors will know that they’re involved with Oklahoma high-tech startups.”
Accelerators are an evolution of the business incubator concept. When incubator programs were first introduced in the early 1980s, they numbered only a dozen nationwide. Now they can be counted in the thousands, according to the National Business Incubation Association.
Incubators tend to provide resources for their clients such as office space and professional advisers to help refine business models over many months, while accelerators focus more on speed – often just a few weeks – and attract venture capital from multiple sources interested in tech-based business concepts that are already operating to some degree.
In exchange for providing seed capital and other resources, the VentureSpur plan takes a 10-percent equity stake in its startups.
Epperson said VentureSpur Texas will be operated by VC fund Trailblazer Capital, with a focus on mobility and technology for restaurants, retail and hospitality. LaunchOklahoma will be focused on recruiting tech startups in the state.
“Niche accelerators tend to do very well in attracting investors from across the country who are interested in that particular market,” he said.
Epperson said the venture pool in Oklahoma is small, so LaunchOklahoma will expand its efforts to tap into national capital networks and develop so-called crowdfunding strategies that attract many small investors online for early-stage seed funding. To that end, LaunchOklahoma will also test new technologies such as a mobile app for managing networking, scheduling and accountability.
Epperson said LaunchOklahoma is reviewing several startup applications – none of which are related to VentureSpur Texas – and three or four admissions for 2014 acceleration program will be announced soon. This year’s program will include a pitch day in October.
The accelerator also plans a future presence in other cities in the state. Epperson said it was too early to say whether a third VentureSpur will be launched.