By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
When we talk about building a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem in Oklahoma, people nod their heads in agreement.
It’s not the type of statement that you can argue with after all, especially when virtually all net new job creation in our country over the past 20-plus years has come from young companies.
But what is a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, really?
There’s the California model, with its legacy of an abundance of early stage investment capital. Or the Boston model, with its emphasis on technology readily spun out from the region’s multitude of scientific and research institutions such as MIT. And then there’s the rest of us.
We’re putting our own spin on building an environment of innovation here in Oklahoma.
Consider the story of CleanNG, a Tulsa-based company that makes liner-less carbon fiber fuel tanks for compressed natural gas (CNG).
Co-founders Matt Villarreal and Michael Tate got the idea for the tank when they were students at Oklahoma State University and set out to build a Formula 1 race car that ran on alternative fuels to compete with other student teams from clubs around the world.
As they worked on their engine, the two students came to understand that fuel storage tanks and fueling stations were holding people back from pursing CNG vehicles. They had what Villarreal describes as a “crazy idea” for a liner-less fuel tank.
Villarreal used the idea for his class projects. He and Tate participated in the Governor’s Cup, won second place in OSU’s Riata Business Plan competition, and kept going.
Now, three years later, CleanNG’s liner-less natural gas tank has completed federal safety testing for mobile fueling station applications. Four tanks are in a pilot project with a customer. The firm holds two patents and is moving into voluntary industry standards testing for in-vehicle tanks — on the path for a full-scale launch.
“Our tanks are the most advanced CNG tanks ever created,” Villarreal said. “We are testing an operating pressure of 4,500 PSI and a burst pressure of 12,000 PSI. We are the only ones with a liner-less tank at this kind of pressure. We have about 10 percent more usable volume space than our competitors. Our tanks are 40 percent lighter. This is a game changer.”
Through the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, CleanNG has received three research contracts from the state of Oklahoma as well as funding from the National Science Foundation.
The company is engaged in research with OSU on the Tulsa campus. i2E is assisting with business advice and start-up capital needs.
The next time you hear or read the words “Oklahoma’s entrepreneurial ecosystem,” I hope the story of CleanNG pops into your mind.
It’s just one example of entrepreneurs, ideas, and Oklahoma’s unique brand of support for new jobs and wealth creation in our state.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
Did You Know? According to the Kauffman/LegalZoom Startup Confidence Index, 91 percent of the entrepreneurs surveyed were confident or very confident that their companies’ profitability would increase in the next 12 months.