At Cortado Ventures, our work is about more than capital. We’re dedicated to supporting growth and innovation in Oklahoma and the Midcontinent for the benefit of the entire region. But what role does a venture capital firm play in the growth of an entire region?
While it’s still a work in progress (and our team has learned quite a bit), we believe everything comes down to collaboration. With so many people invested in this endeavor, an entrepreneurial ecosystem builds itself. But each of us accelerates growth through our individual contributions and working together.
At Cortado, we’re focused on building something bigger than ourselves and connecting the right people, places, opportunities and organizations. Ultimately this work is complex, and we’re only one piece of a larger puzzle. The greatest success is achieved through collaboration.
We’re fortunate to have an experienced internal team and network of talented, driven individuals and organizations working toward a focused mission. We’ve learned a lot working within this robust network to support the development of a fledgling entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Midcontinent. Below are three takeaways from our experience.
1. Timing is Everything
You’ve heard that timing is everything. We know this well as we made the decision to raise our first fund in Feb. 2020, just weeks before the world shut down. But the events of the past few years have emphasized how critical the current moment is — especially for those working to support an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Midcontinent.
As we all can attest, 2020 was a pivotal and unique time in history that completely changed all of our lives. We’re still experiencing shifts in culture, strains on supply chains, and vast changes to the workforce. In the wake of such a significant event, many people reassessed their lives and chose to take the leap into starting a new business. We saw this significantly among women and racially underrepresented individuals. Investors, usually traveling and taking vacations, also altered their focus, eager to help rebuild the economy and increasingly began looking for opportunities to invest.
This disruption created an unprecedented demand for rapid innovation and new solutions. Compared to any other point in our lives, this current moment in history could be viewed as the single best time for starting and growing a disruptive company. While this may seem counterintuitive, we know from past experience that disruption and chaos are incredible drivers of innovation.
Consequently, it’s also the best time to be running a VC fund. In this moment, firms like ours have a rich opportunity to increase our impact by supporting others. Across the nation, opportunities exist because there is a growing need for solutions. It’s up to VCs, investors, accelerators, and the greater entrepreneurial support system to collaborate. By working together, we are actively identifying and supporting entrepreneurs crafting the right solutions and ensuring they’re connected to the experts and capital they need for success. It’s through cooperation that we all benefit from these entrepreneurial innovations. This rings especially true in the Midcontinent.
2. Location, Location, Location
The pandemic created a need for innovative solutions — and a need for capital to back them. Those in Oklahoma have seen the advantage of being in the right place at the right time.
In many ways, Oklahoma is perfectly positioned for building a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in a post-pandemic world. To understand why Oklahoma is primed for the current moment, we need to take a quick look at the history of VC in the state and the work that others accomplished before us.
In the 1980s, the State of Oklahoma made a marked investment in the future of entrepreneurship and growth with the creation of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST). Then in the 1990s, the State created the Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center (now i2E) and passed State Questions 680 & 681, which enabled technology transfer and cooperation between startups and state universities.
These efforts opened the door for the first wave of VC funds. While this seedling ecosystem wasn’t an instant success (the next few decades were fairly slow for VC funding), it did lead to the launch of some successful funds, including Plains Ventures and the Oklahoma Life Sciences Fund (OLSF) .
Cut to the present, and Cortado is building off this foundation to help lead the next wave of VC in Oklahoma, alongside firms such as Atento Capital, Boyd Street Ventures, and several others that are raising funds or preparing to launch. The strength of our ecosystem is dependent on working toward the common goals of our broader community by building off the foundation others have prepared.
3. The Team Did It
With a strong foundation, Oklahoma’s entrepreneurial ecosystem continues to grow. Historically, scaling startups needed to look outside the state for capital, talent, and resources. We’re one part of a growing charge to change this. We’re grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with a network of talented organizations and people all working toward the common goal of helping our entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Midcontinent grow and thrive.
At Cortado, our primary role in advancing this work is acting as a catalyst for startups. Anything we can do to give these companies a shot at growth is helpful in spurring a more robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. A recent example is our work with Moat Biotechnology Corporation (MoatBio), a biopharmaceutical company that is developing an intranasal COVID-19 vaccine. Previously, the founders had to look outside the region for funding, but are now building with Oklahoma and Midcontinent-based capital.
But we’re not the only ones working to support growth in Oklahoma. Our partnerships with startup support programs like The Verge OKC, gener8tor, and the Tom Love Innovation Hub allow us to make connections within the industry and amplify startup voices, right here in Oklahoma. Join us on Thursday, Feb. 23rd for The Verge OKC’s official launch party as central Oklahoma’s newest entrepreneurship hub.
At times, we cultivate resources and information from outside Oklahoma. Our General Partner, Mike Moradi, works to bring expertise from leading economic hubs like San Francisco or Boston, and events like the World Economic Forum and the flagship TED conference, back to Oklahoma. Additionally, Cortado Ventures Managing Partner Nathaniel Harding completed the Harvard Business School Executive Education’s program on Global Leadership and Public Policy for the 21st Century and is one of three Oklahomans to be recognized as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. These efforts are bringing national and global expertise back home.
We know these types of convening events are critical to build important connections, so we support those who develop them for Oklahomans. In 2022, Cortado Ventures sponsored events to support Techlahoma, OKC Minority Enterprise Development Week, the Oklahoma City Innovation District, Oklahoma Women in Tech and TEDxOKC. These organizations support the next generation of entrepreneurs in the state, and we’re excited to partner with them.
Finally, none of this work would not be possible without our internal team. Our partners have all started, grown, and sold companies in the industries in which we invest. They wholeheartedly engage in giving back by supporting others in the region. Each of us is passionate about playing our part in the ongoing collaboration to spur the growth of an entire ecosystem here in the Midcontinent.
Collaboration is crucial to each component of the entrepreneurial ecosystem we’re building. As previous leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs laid the foundation for our organization, we too strive to continue this work. Partnership empowers us to create a more robust environment for thriving startups in the Midcontinent. As we continue to work together, we can realize a more vibrant and sustainable entrepreneurial landscape that benefits us all.
At Cortado Ventures, we invest in pre-seed and seed stage startups with a focus on energy, logistics, life sciences, and the future of work. If you are a Midcontinent startup or looking to invest in these startups, contact us to learn more.