By Scott Meacham
Success of Oklahoma ventures has given me renewed admiration for the entrepreneurs who built those companies.
We have had multiple successful portfolio exits in recent years — including Selexys, WeGoLook, and Alkami (originally iThryv). Just this month, Spiers New Technologies (SNT) was acquired by Cox Mobility, a division of Cox Automotive, a business unit of Cox Enterprises, a billion dollar privately held global conglomerate.
Each time one of these events occurs, I feel renewed admiration for the entrepreneurs who founded and built these companies. How do they come up with their ideas? And then how in the world do they hold to their vision and overcome all odds and create successful businesses that achieve IPOs or that billion dollar companies value enough to buy?
“I am not good at many things,” said Dirk Spiers, founder and CEO of Spiers New Technologies, “but I am fairly okay in spotting new trends and building something around that. Also, I have always been really concerned about climate change, the environment, and pollution. From previous lives, I learned that you can only create something of value when there is a real fork in the road, when something in the world changes in a profound way. I saw things happening in the green environment that gave me the opportunity to start a new industry segment, to define a company in this new space, and therefore build a company and an industry around it.”
GM was starting to show signs, around 2008, that they were developing a new electric vehicle. Dirk went to some shows. “I wanted to participate in this,” he said, “but the more I thought about it, the more I thought I am too late.”
Still, he kept thinking. He considered charging stations or building batteries, but kept uncovering reasons not to. Then the idea that became Spiers New Technologies hit.
“I came up with life cycle management of the battery packs,” said Dirk, “repair, remanufacturing, refurbishing, and repurposing, with one-stop logistics and dealer support for EOM manufacturers. The more I was thinking, reading, and doing calculations, the more confident — and insecure — I became because no one was yet doing it.”
Dirk attended a conference where the GM executive in charge of the Chevy Volt was a keynote speaker. “We struck up a long conversation, and he asked me what I did for a living,” Dirk said. “Nothing, I said, but this is what I want to do.”
Dirk explained his idea about end-to-end cycle management of battery packs. The exec from GM was quiet, and then he told Dirk that “we will be in touch.”
“I thought it was the typical thing,” Dirk said, “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” But the executive did call. Through a series of business decisions, Dirk relocated from The Netherlands to Oklahoma in 2010 and then founded Spiers New Technologies in 2014. Dirk Spiers had also founded an industry.
SNT designs 4R, an integrated, one-stop solution for life-cycle management of advanced battery packs used in hybrid and electric vehicles. “If you lead, you compete on knowledge; if you wait, you compete on margin,” he said.
“We set ourselves up that we could talk the language, understand the players, and had the equipment. We always wanted to be the leader, investing in the future, in the processes, and equipment. We took the customers seriously.”
Companies like GM and Nissan became customers. Dirk became an invited speaker at conferences. SNT’s industry reputation grew — and became a brand and groundbreaking leader in the industry segment they created. In Oklahoma alone, the company has 300,000 square feet and is approaching 100 people.
“We were very lucky that we had some very smart people working for us,” Dirk said. “Brian Schulz has been with me almost since the beginning. The adventure aged him, but he was such a creative thinker, and he could see the big picture. And then we just kept adding more great people from Oklahoma, many of those OU.”
Dirk and the team at Spiers New Technologies had a plan.
“We did know what we were doing,” Dirk said. “Sometimes people thought we were crazy — maybe they were correct. Sometimes you need to be crazy. If you only hedge your bets, you never do anything. Now, with Cox and electrification taking off, we have serious resources to accelerate our growth even more.”
Once again, I have renewed admiration for the entrepreneurs who founded successful companies like Spiers New Technologies.
Scott Meacham CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.