Originally from California, Michael was born in San Francisco, and raised in Los Angeles. From 2010 to 2018, he lived primarily in New York with 2 years in London and a splash of Tel Aviv before moving to Tulsa in the beginning of 2018.
For as long as he can remember, he has always loved to work and loved to engulf himself within different kinds of businesses, both as an operator and as an investor.
For the past two years, Michael has worked closely with the George Kaiser Family Foundation in a role that straddles both investment and economic development. Some of the questions they are working to address are: “Can you be intentional about how you deploy capital that not only drives return but has a local economic impact as well?” “What are the right economic incentives needed to attract and retain talent in Tulsa?” “Can you make large scale social change through economic opportunity?”
These questions led to starting Atento Capital, a return focused early stage investment vehicle investing both directly in startups as well as through venture funds. In addition to driving returns, Atento is focused on job creation in Tulsa.
We appreciate Michael taking the time to discuss some of the incredible work he is a part of in Tulsa and share his wisdom as an investor.
Tell us a bit about your work in the Oklahoma Startup ecosystem.
I lead Atento Capital, we are an early stage venture capital fund (and fund-of-funds) that beyond returns, is also looking to drive job creation in Tulsa, and do so with an eye towards diversity and inclusion. In addition to investing, we also have an operational component to our Firm and assist in programs such as Tulsa Responds, Summer Tulsa Nights, Tulsa Remote, corporate recruiting (going after the Tesla’s of the world), etc.
What is Tulsa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem’s biggest strength and what could we work on?
I think the biggest strength is the people/ease of introductions/overall talent. I think we could work on having more technical talent walking around, however program’s like Holberton and Tulsa Remote, which have launched in the last year or two, are addressing that technical talent shortage head on and I believe are moving things in the right direction.
What do you say to founders who feel like if only they were in Silicon Valley they would be successful?
I have seen successful founders in Tulsa (or towns smaller than Tulsa) as well as Silicon Valley. It really depends on the founder, the company, the timing, and a variety of other things. If someone is building a deep tech company, they might have an advantage should they be in SF. If they are building a fast-moving consumer goods company, they may have an advantage in New York or LA. But, if they are building a B2B focused software company, and a variety of other types of software companies, they can very much be successful (and in certain situations even more successful due to the lower cost basis) in Tulsa.
How should a founder approach an investor?
As a human. We are humans as are you. Have a conversation with us. Explain to us what keeps you up at night, what the problem is you’re looking to solve, how you are going to solve it, who you are going to solve it with, where you are going, and what you need from us to get there. When you take money from someone you are now deeply connected to one another in the venture. Make sure you take the time in vetting your investors to make sure that it is a good Founder-Investor fit for the long haul.
As a relatively new board member, what has impressed you the most about i2E?
I always tell Mark Lauinger and Malachi Blankenship, both with i2E, “you guys see every deal in Oklahoma.” And I really believe they do; it’s impressive. I find the i2E folks to be genuine in their desire to help invest and grow tech companies in Oklahoma. They have carried that mantle for a long time by themselves and finally now there seems to be other players popping up around them to help rise the tide together for all startups. But Oklahoma would not be where it is today in terms of Venture Capital without the role i2E has played thus far.
What’s an Oklahoma startup you feel everyone should be watching?
It is tougher to pick one than 3, because if we are investing, we think you should be watching! I would say Sway Medical, Respond Flow, and Boddle Learning. All with exceptional founders, concepts, and large TAM’s they are going after.
What’s a book every founder should read?
Give and Take By Adam Grant.