By Scott Meacham
As Dirk Spiers knows, it’s really hard work building a technology business from the ground up.
From 50,000 feet and the hindsight of 20/20, building a startup can look smooth with just a few blips. But down on the ground, the reality is always something else.
Spiers New Technologies (SNT) — an exemplary success story — has been in the news these last few weeks as the firm, which literally created an industry, was acquired by Cox Enterprises, a billion dollar privately help global conglomerate.
From the clouds, this is the success story of a seasoned serial entrepreneur, Dirk Spiers, who recognized that the promise and necessity for electric vehicles meant great demand for battery management and recycling.
At a conference, he happened to connect with the GM executive responsible for the Chevy Volt who listened to Dirk’s ideas about life-cycle management of battery packs. Dirk moved to Oklahoma, bought a building, founded SNT, and created enduring customer relationships with many of the largest automotive OEMs in the world for their electric vehicle lines.
This sounds straightforward in the telling, but it was a path full of risk. “Moving to Oklahoma” meant immigrating from The Netherlands. “Buying a building” meant purchasing four walls, a roof, and a floor that was, in Dirk’s own words, dingy, dirty, and cold.
“I got the keys just before Christmas,” he said. “I was standing there with the keys in my hand. It looked huge, and I almost threw up from stress thinking how do we ever fill this building. Within a year, we were out of space.”
Dirk assembled a small startup team. “We cleaned the building out and painted it,” he said. “We build the process and our own machines. We did everything ourselves to save money, to learn, and to create a culture where people knew they had to do the hands-on work. No one was too big to work with a broom to keep things clean. We didn’t have bathrooms for half a year, but slowly and steadily it became a real building. Then over time it became a real company.”
Now SNT is at the head of a real industry.
It’s really hard work building a technology business from the ground up. We talk quite a bit about access to capital — but that is just the start. In entrepreneurship, deals are like donuts; even the best ones come with holes. No matter how good successful entrepreneurs are at filling those gaps, they need more help that “just” investment capital.
i2E’s e3 initiative, the most robust program of its kind in the region, takes the learned experience from working with hundreds of advisory and portfolio companies to produce comprehensive market validation that either leads to realistic, milestone-driven business plans, creative pivots based on market intelligence, or frees up resources for a better idea.
For Oklahoma, once we elicit innovation that is commercializable, we must continue a well-coordinated triage to help these deals overcome the bumps and gaps to help our state’s talented entrepreneurs continue to build and scale successful companies.
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.