With Global Entrepreneurship Week this month, and our preparation for Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur and the 2022 Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup underway, we are particularly focused on encouraging Oklahomans of all ages and expertise to consider entrepreneurship as a career.
There is nothing more inspiring than the journeys of Oklahoma’s advanced technology startups. Bison Underground is one such company, an ag-tech startup that launched about a year ago in Norman, OK.
Here are five strategies from the Bison Underground playbook to help a startup start right:
1. Mission. Bison Underground is tackling carbon capture with a scalable process to remove carbon from the atmosphere and put it back in the soil. “The world has a lot of carbon where we don’t want it and not enough where we do,” said Steven Adams, founder and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oklahoma.
Bison Underground is developing a method to recycle waste plant material that captures carbon from the atmosphere via photosynthesis and injects the nutrient-rich biomaterial back into the ground in a non-invasive way. The machine they are inventing works with the tractors and combines farmers already use. The process enriches the soil without chemicals.
2. Talent. A founding team of geoscientists, engineers, and management experts with remarkable resumes and track records of accomplishment is key to the early success of Bison Underground. The diverse group includes women, immigrants, and U.S. military veterans.
3. Bootstrapping. Venture Capitalists (VCs) want to see revenue before they invest. Until VCs write checks, successful startups figure out ways to pay as they go. Bison Underground was founded in August 2021 and the team immediately set to work applying for funding, starting with the first round of the XPRIZE, a $100 million carbon removal competition from the Musk Foundation.”
Two months later, Bison Underground was named one of five U.S.-based winners of $250,000 seed funding from the XPRIZE for Caron Removal. “We thought it was a mistake,” Adams said; it was no mistake. In May 2022, Bison Underground went on to win the University of Oklahoma’s Startup Venture competition.
4. Product/Market Fit. Adams, a former Marine who comes from a family of farmers, has a long-standing interest in the application of geology to advance sustainable development.
“Our idea,” Adams said “is to take crop waste that usually decomposes on the surface of the soil and put it deep into the ground with a machine that makes small holes, rather than invasive cuts like a tiller does. The plan improves the quality of the soil and reduces the amount of fertilizer needed.”
Bison Underground is an i2E E3 alumni company. We have been working together for about eight months. “i2E really knows what they are doing,” Adams said. “They have given us one-to-one mentorship and encouraged us to do hands-on customer discovery. They taught us how to get the most out of talking with customers, how to focus on keeping our solution scalable, affordable, and profitable at all price points, and then to choose the right channel to reach our target customers.” The team is continuing its customer discovery journey with an ongoing online survey of farmers.
5. Serendipity and Relationships. There are plenty of challenges to building a company. When people want to help or good luck happens, put it all to work. “Part of the reason we created our company’s home in Oklahoma is that we got so much support from people and organizations in this state,” Adams said.
“Everyone has been so receptive and friendly. The state made connections for us. We have support from the accelerators. Customer discovery through i2E has made structuring the business plan easier. They won’t let us put a plan together that won’t work with farmer’s budgets.”
“We are not from Oklahoma,” Adams said, “but Bison Underground lives here now. The City of Norman has given us 10 acres of land and so much support. Farmers want to help us design a sustainable solution. I send a cold-call email asking for a 15-minute call and they say, ‘can you come to my farm on Wednesday?’ That’s incredible.”
At i2E, we work shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of inspiring startups every year—bold companies that are not afraid to imagine and then create solutions to big problems that impact our state, whole industries, and the world. Remarkable entrepreneurs and teams lead these companies. Bison Underground is a great example.