Something big for all Oklahomans recently flew under the radar locally, and I thought BlogOKC would be a great place to shine some light.
OKC’s TokenEx received a Series B investment round of $100 million.
$100,000,000. That’s a lot of zeros.
If you are unfamiliar with the company, TokenEx developed proprietary technology that “desensitizes” critical information by replacing it with tokenized placeholders that have no relation to the original inputs.
So, if a hacker breaks into a company’s server and steals sensitive data such as credit card or Social Security numbers, tokenization renders the information useless to the data thief.
Co-founded by Alex Pezold, CEO, and Jerald Dawkins in 2010, TokenEx is located in the Port164 office center in far northwest Oklahoma City. It employs 72 people who are constantly innovating improvements to the tokenization software.
The latest investment round was led by Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based K1 Investment Management, LLC, which led me to ask Pezold about location implications for TokenEx.
Pezold was adamant that TokenEx was, is and continues to be an Oklahoma-based venture.
“TokenEx always has been and always will be an Oklahoma-first business,” he said. “We continue hiring locally and actually relocating professionals into the state of Oklahoma! Of course, due to the pandemic, our hiring practices have adapted accordingly so our business can thrive. “
The latest investment round will allow TokenEx to expand its “go-to-market capabilities” while enabling it to continue to create new products and solutions, Alex told me.
Pezold and his team built this business amid an extremely competitive market, yet drew investor interest from more than 10 different potential equity partners before the K1 Investment Management deal.
“We selected K1 Investment Management because of their progressive practices around partnering with and growing their portfolio companies,” Alex said. “K1 has already been a great partner to TokenEx, and we expect our partnership to progress nicely as our cultures blend extremely well – and we are aligned as partners with our goals.”
Demand for TokenEx’ tokenization solution continues to increase in urgency. There were 1,862 data breaches last year according to the International Association of Privacy Professionals.
Meanwhile, new legislation was proposed in Oklahoma designed to protect data privacy, and similar laws are being adopted around the nation and the world.
“As we’ve seen even here in Oklahoma recently, legislation around protecting privacy data for Oklahoma constituents is only increasing, which is the opportunity we will capitalize on in he next 2-5 years,” Alex said. “The good news, TokenEx is already protecting both payment and privacy data today, so it is only natural that we will continue growing in both addressable markets.”
I’m proud that TokenEx was created in Oklahoma and continues to be an Oklahoma-based company.
Listen to the entire podcast sponsored by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) and hear Jay describe his work on NASA exoskeleton designs and how it carried over to his own company, Martin Bionics.
However, space limitations for that article prevented inclusions of several comments Jay made about the impact OCAST and the Oklahoma Innovation Model have had on his prosthetic design work over the years.
I thought they shed some light on how critical state support of innovators like Jay can be, so I’m posting his comments in this blog.
All of these comments are from Jay Martin made during the Innovate That podcast:
Martin on the value of OCAST
If you look back at the history of Martin Bionics, there are several significant pieces in that timeline, in that story line that have OCAST’s name on it. At the very beginning I was practicing clinical prosthetics and had some ideas for some new prosthetic designs and ended up discovering OCAST. I went to every workshop OCAST had. I learned how to write grants, taught myself how to write patents, along with OCAST’s help in some of those workshops, and ended up winning my first OCAST grant, I think, while I was either still in residency or just out of residency. That was really the launching pad for me.
That really shaped the entire trajectory of my career. I ended up winning a number of OCAST grants over the years for technologies we were developing, but the impact to the amputee community has been significant from OCAST funding. And, obviously, Martin Bionics’ growth and trajectory and all of our staff, we can all thank OCAST for so many of those significant pieces of our journey. It’s a great resource we have here in Oklahoma. It’s incredible. I’ve encouraged so many other entrepreneurs to check it out because it has really been lifeblood for us to really accomplish some things that otherwise we would not have been able to.
Martin on the Oklahoma Innovation Model
When I was first starting, I was green. I knew nothing about entrepreneurship, grants, patents or any of that, so I was hungry to find information.
(Editor’s note: The Oklahoma Innovation Model includes OCAST, i2E Inc., the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma Catalyst Programs at the University of Oklahoma.)
All of those are incredible resources. Anyone who is young on their journey on entrepreneurship or advancing or creating, they are incredible resources and I’ve always found there are staff members in each of those organizations who are standing by ready to help, ready to answer questions and ready to go to lunch with you and download information. They are there to help us be successful. Absolutely incredible resources.
We have a real gift here in Oklahoma that some other states don’t have.
Why locate Martin Bionics here in Oklahoma?
I was born in Oklahoma, grew up in Norman, worked in Oklahoma City in my adult life. Oklahoma is a great place, and from the standpoint of entrepreneurship, the resources we have, you have OCAST and all those other great organizations there, but in addition to that we have relatively low cost of living, we have really nice people, we have a really progressive city that is amazing. It’s not too big, just the right size. We have rush minutes, not hours. It’s just a great place to raise a family, to live, to work and to play.
There’s enough industry in Oklahoma that there’s really a talented pool of applicants for hiring. So we’ve been able to grow our business compared to the coasts for a fraction of the price.
Watch a video interview OCAST conducted with Jay Martin from 2018:
Editor’s note: Along with my colleagues from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST), I recently had the opportunity to meet Oklahoma City innovator Sharina Perry and hear the story of her remarkable journey as an inventor and entrepreneur. This is the story I wrote from that visit:
By Jim Stafford
Her audience sat spellbound for more than an hour recently as Sharina Perry shared her journey into entrepreneurship and her vision for her Oklahoma based companies all centered around developing and distributing her invention of Utopia Plastix.
Representatives from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University heard Perry’s tale about overcoming numerous obstacles to advance her invention.
Collectively, those organizations are part of what has become known as the Oklahoma Innovation Model (OIM), which supports innovation and technology advancements that help diversify Oklahoma’s economy.
Perry founded Utopia Genetics to distribute products made with Utopia Plastix, a trademarked product, as well as Utopia Solutions that makes Utopia Plastix.
Utopia Plastix was developed as patent-pending, plant-based alternatives for petroleum-based plastics such as plastic bags and single-use straws.
But Perry’s journey began with a different mission.
Masked for COVID protection, the OIM group listened to the presentation at Oklahoma City’s Poly Films, Inc., as Perry described how she began searching for plant materials that could help reduce incurable tumors that ravaged her nephew.
The prohibitive cost of clinical trials to gain Food and Drug Administration approval for any potential new drug delayed that quest.
However, it opened a door for Perry to take what she had learned into a different direction.
“In the process, I realized that God had a plan,” she told her audience. “I’m a person of faith, and Utopia is about my journey and using my gifts and the gifts of others.”
She pivoted into compounding plant-based products as an alternative for petroleum-based plastics after learning that Starbucks was offering $10 million for the first successful alternative to single-use plastic straws.
In some areas of the country, single-use plastic straws are now banned, as well as plastic bags that are popular with retailers.
Perry is not a chemist. Instead, she had a long career in satellite and cable industries before taking her first steps down this new path.
So, she dove into the research, working to create a strong paper straw made of Hemp. She provided the paper for the first Hemp straw created by Hoffmaster, Inc. Once produced, she learned that hemp would not be feasible for use as a straw that would be a food contact item and current cost of production would not be feasible.
Research led her to some important discoveries.
“I learned of other plants that had stronger fiber, a stronger core, had a greater yield per acre and actually performed better than hemp at a lower cost per seed,” she said. “And what we found out was that most companies had not heard anything about using plant material in their plastic applications.”
Perry is African American and female with no manufacturing background. Perhaps it’s no surprise that when she reached out to Oklahoma’s manufacturing community for assistance, there was lukewarm response.
“When I started on this journey, I thought having access to what I needed was going to be easy in Oklahoma,” she said. “It was not.”
So, she found a company in Texas that would compound her plant resin into pellets that could be used in the process.
Eventually, Perry perfected a process that resulted in usable plastic alternative straws, and contracted with a straw manufacturer, GCA Products, Inc., in Dallas.
“We’ve had a ton of people come in and say they have the next-best resin,” said Hunter Dunlap, vice president of Operations for GCA Products. “But Sharina is one of the only ones that stayed alive. Through Sharina’s dedication and partnership, we are actually producing straws as we speak for (food product distributor) Ben E. Keith.”
Perry also established a relationship with Poly Films., Inc., which has successfully used her plant-based material to produce what are known in the industry as blown plastic bags.
Kevin McGehee, vice president of Poly Films, guided the OIM group on a tour to watch the bags as they were produced, handing out finished product as souvenirs. Poly Films is a family-owned manufacturer that produces plastic bags and other products for a wide range of clients.
The bottom line, Perry said, is that she has created a business model that benefits farmers, processors, manufacturers and distributors. The crops she uses are high yield “rotational” crops often used to replenish the soil after wheat or corn has been grown on it.
“It’s just kind of a win-win-win all the way down,” GCA’s Hunter said. “We saw that early on, and decided to start the partnership with Sharina. It’s gone very well.”
Perry shared some potential uses that her plastic alternative could be used in addition to single-use straws and plastic bags. That includes plastic cutlery, building materials, roofing products, even diapers. And more.
“There are so many lanes our products can be used in,” she said. “It’s bigger than me. I could have sold this a long time ago. I get offers all the time.”
Before the meeting ended, representatives from the Oklahoma Innovation Model eagerly discussed ways to connect Perry with more Oklahoma manufacturers and industries such as aerospace.
“This has been fantastic,” said Dan Luton, OCAST programs director. “Not only the technology and the product, but also your story and how it got here. There are people who could use your product now; they just don’t know you are here.”
Utopia Plastix did not win the $10 million Starbucks prize. It started too late. But Perry has journeyed far beyond that original incentive.
“We can now use agriculture to replace everyday items, and that creates a sustainable model for our community and our country,” Perry said. “There was already a demand and we want people to know that we are here to help satisfy it. We want Oklahoma to be positioned to do it, and to benefit disadvantaged and minority farmers, as well.”
That’s the win-win-win that Perry is seeking.
Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).
I like to say that Oklahoma’s life science cluster stretches from Ardmore in the south through Oklahoma City to Stillwater, to Tulsa and on to Ponca City in the north.
Many of the various entities in Oklahoma’s biotech corridor — research, academic and health care — are usually brought together one time a year at the annual BIO International Convention in whatever city it is held.
Except for 2020, of course.
Like almost every other conference in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the BIO show this year to become a virtual gathering instead of at the San Diego Convention Center.
However, the pandemic couldn’t stop a unique collaboration launched earlier this year between a Stillwater-based company called MaxQ and the Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI) — the state’s largest blood collection agency.
MaxQ invented a patented cold-storage packaging system that serves hospitals, research institutions and blood banks nationwide. OBI evaluated and began using MaxQ’s MaxPlus tube transport shippers earlier this year to ensure safe transport of critical blood products.
MaxQ was founded by a team of then-Oklahoma State University students in 2012, and has since gained equity investment led by i2E, along with grant funding from the National Science Foundation. Saravan Kumar is MaxQ’s CEO.
MaxQ also won a $200,000 Oklahoma Applied Research Support grant from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) that supported development of foam insulation technology.
Today, the MaxPlus solutions are used in more than 520 hospitals, Level I trauma centers, emergency medical transport and blood centers globally.
Congratulations to MaxQ for developing an Oklahoma-made product that meets so many needs in the life sciences industry.
Below is a short story I recently received from MaxQ about its collaboration with OBI:
MaxQ, a Stillwater, Oklahoma, cold chain packaging solutions company, partnered with the state’s premier blood collection organization, Oklahoma Blood Institute (OBI), to deliver the most advanced blood packaging solutions. Oklahoma Blood Institute is the sixth largest, nonprofit blood collector in America. With 185,000 donors annually, OBI services approximately 230 medical facilities across Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas.
MaxQ, through its dedicated testing lab and validation services, assisted OBI in updating protocols to validate their packaging and shippers used to transport blood products. The collaboration has helped OBI save time and resources.
Through this collaborative relationship and in working with OBI’s operational team, MaxQ carefully studied blood center operations, the journey of a blood unit from a donor to recipient, and the impact of existing packaging solutions. The current industry standard bulky foam and cardboard boxes are heavy, cumbersome to pack and non-sustainable.
Using its proprietary Maxify™ technology, MaxQ developed the MaxPlus family of blood-specific packaging solutions that places donor blood product safety at its core. The smaller, lighter and highly reusable MaxPlus shippers are easy to pack, fully qualified against industry’s stringent standards, and generate significant savings.
The OBI team evaluated and successfully implemented the MaxPlus shippers for transport of donor specimen tubes early this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The entire experience from concept to product delivery was fantastic,” said Carla Bartholomew, OBI Technical Operations Systems analyst. “We were replacing containers that were not very durable and were being replaced at an alarming rate. Enter the MaxQ team and their solution. Now the ubiquitous red tube boxes make me smile every time I see one in the hallway. The guys from MaxQ were very knowledgeable and passionate about transport containers. They listened to our concerns about size and weight and designed a solution tailor made for our needs. I look forward to working with them on future projects.”
The MaxPlus tube transport shippers employed by the major blood centers in the U.S. are quickly evolving as the new industry standard. This collaboration of two Oklahoma based entities is currently solving decades old blood transport challenges globally. The MaxPlus solutions are used today in over 520 hospitals, Level I trauma centers, Emergency medical transport and blood centers globally. Protecting and safely delivering every single unit of donated blood product to patients in need.
About MaxQ MaxQ is Temperature Controlled Packaging Re-Imagined! Trusted by over 500 hospitals and clinics globally, MaxQ is revolutionizing the shipping of temperature-sensitive investigational drugs and other biologics with advanced breakthroughs in thermal insulation sciences and transparency. Its patented MAXIFYTM technology enables a new category of payload-specific, advanced packaging solutions with unprecedented features, thermal performance, and cost efficiency. www.packmaxq.com/
OBI Media Inquiries Contact Heather Browne, Marketing & Media Manager, at 405-419-1330 or firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or to schedule an interview.
Editor’s note: My friends at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) recently launched their first podcast, which highlights Oklahoma innovators and companies across the state. I listened to the first three podcasts hosted by Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell and wrote this story about the podcast and the folks Pinnell interviewed:
“Thank you to all who are listening to the Innovate That! podcast.”
With those words, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell launched the initial podcast produced by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) and highlighting innovative Oklahoma companies and entrepreneurs.
OCAST is a legislatively funded state agency with a mission to expand and diversify Oklahoma’s economy by supporting research and development of new projects, processes and industries.
Pinnell serves as host of the Innovate That! podcast, interviewing Oklahoma innovators and highlighting the collaborative Oklahoma Innovation Model that provides assistance to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
“I’m really excited to start this podcast with OCAST,” Pinnell said. “They are all about innovation, all about helping companies create, helping companies grow their businesses in the state of Oklahoma. For us to build a top 10 state and build a state in the right way, we have to have OCAST and the Innovation Pipeline Model.”
The historic first Innovate That! podcast featured Dr. Richard Kopke, CEO of Oklahoma City’s Hough Ear Institute. The Institute developed a drug known as NHPN-1010 in cooperation with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) that can prevent and potentially restore hearing loss.
Hough Ear Institute is a not-for-profit research organization with a mission to restore hearing worldwide through research, education and humanitarian efforts.
Stillwater-based XploSafe was the second innovative company highlighted by the podcast, with Gas Tech Engineering of Sapulpa completing the trio of launch podcasts.
The positive influence of OCAST and its partners in the Oklahoma Innovation Model – i2E Inc., the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, the New Product Development Center at Oklahoma State University and the Tom Love Innovation Hub at the University of Oklahoma – was a common theme in the first three podcasts.
“OCAST has been key to it all,” Kopke said of Hough Ear Institute’s success in both developing the drug and licensing it last year to Oblato Inc., which has indicated it plans to initiate Phase 2 clinical trials of NHPN-1010. “And through their granting process, OCAST has provided grants that were leveraged into several millions of dollars of Department of Defense funding.”
Kopke’s words were echoed by entrepreneurs in companies with different missions and in far different industries.
XploSafe is a provider of critical safety solutions for homeland security and chemical safety.
“OCAST programs have been instrumental in us being able to not only find funding to push out new products, but they’ve also helped us find the people that we hire,” said Michael Teicheira, operations manager for XploSafe. “The OCAST intern program funding in particular has been great for us.”
Gas Tech Engineering, which provides expertise in process engineering, design, fabrication and service, received OCAST funding to develop a new product for the oil and gas industry.
“Without the OCAST process, as a small, privately held company, I don’t think we could have done the project,” said Ron Key, chief technology officer at Gas Tech Engineering. “Now we are working with another Oklahoma agency, the OSU New Product Development Center.”
OCAST Executive Director Michael Carolina said the involvement of Pinnell and the Lt. Governor’s office shows the world of potential listeners that Oklahoma is all-in on developing new technologies and new companies.
“We’re so pleased Lt. Gov. Pinnell agreed to host our new podcast,” Carolina said. “He brings an enthusiasm for Oklahoma innovation that will make listeners across Oklahoma and the nation want to know more about innovation in our state.”
Oklahoma innovators have a great story to tell, and the Innovate That! podcast makes its accessible to potentially a worldwide audience, Pinnell said.
“That’s why Innovate That! is the name of this podcast,” he said. “To really bring amazing Oklahoma companies to the 4 million Oklahomans inside the state of Oklahoma, and, hopefully, to people around the country and around the world as well, who will be listening to this to see and to hear what an amazing state that Oklahoma is when it comes to innovation.”
Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).
ABOUT OCAST: The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology is a state agency tasked with leading Oklahoma’s technology-based economic development efforts, supporting the efforts of start-ups and entrepreneurs to transform promising innovations from concepts into commercial products. OCAST also is an active supporter of STEM education across Oklahoma and provides funding to support internships between local industries and two- and four-year colleges and universities. Visit ocast.ok.gov to learn more.
Editor’s Note: Along with my colleague Debbie Cox from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), I recently had the opportunity to interview Elliot Anderson, an attorney in the Tulsa office of Crowe & Dunlevy, about steps needed to ensure information and communications are secure in home and remote working locations. This is my report.
Back in the olden days, Elliot Anderson had only the foggiest notion what a “Zoom” meeting was. We’re talking way back there, maybe as far back as February 2020.
Anderson is an attorney in the Tulsa office of Crowe & Dunlevy, one of Oklahoma’s oldest and largest law firms. He provides legal counsel in business disputes, contract litigation, oil and gas matters, and securities and insurance disputes.
Like the rest of the business world, Anderson’s job meant that he drove to work every day and practiced as a litigator in Crowe’s office in downtown Tulsa. Or maybe in a courtroom.
Then the pandemic happened.
The Coronavirus shut millions of workers out of their offices and forced them to work remotely from home. It’s no different for Crowe and its team of attorneys and support staff.
Most days now, Anderson works from the home he shares with his wife and four children.
And he’s learned how to navigate the world of work from home and remote business meetings through platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.
“I didn’t really know what Zoom was until the school sent all the kids home and, suddenly, the kids were experts at Zoom because they’re meeting with teachers, studying with friends, taking drum lessons, ballet lessons, dance lessons,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s role with the law firm also includes loss prevention and data security. So, I took the opportunity over a Microsoft Teams virtual interview to ask him about maintaining a secure working environment while working remotely.
Turns out, he’s had a brush with the hazards of online meetings through one of his children. An uninvited guest crashed one of his daughter’s Zoom meetings as she took a virtual dance lesson.
“Nothing inappropriate happened, but this was a random adult person who decided they wanted to crash the party and learn some dance steps,” he said. “I think one thing we’ve learned from the Zoom experience is not to assume that an online communication is secure just because nothing bad has happened.”
So, how do you ensure your meeting and your data is secure while on an online platform?
“Zoom was designed to be open and easy, as easy as walking into a hotel lobby and talking to someone,” he said. “But it turns out it was just about as private. Microsoft Teams and Skype are alternatives and are a little harder to access with more barriers to entry. There are definitely concerns there, and making sure you are in a secure environment is important.”
Anderson suggested an even more secure method. Make an old-fashioned telephone call instead.
“I think one thing we’ve learned from the Zoom experience is not to assume that an online communication is secure just because nothing bad has happened.”
Here are some other suggestions Anderson has for the work-from-home crowd during the pandemic:
Make sure it’s a secure environment: “I live in a household with my wife and four kids, and at any given moment when I’m conducting business online, people are walking through the room. If I’m on a phone call I have to lock the door to keep my kids out. Making sure that you have a secure environment and can control who’s in there to see what you are doing or hear what you are doing is important. If I’m on the phone at my house working on a call, I don’t just have four kids and a wife in the house, if my kid is taking a drum lesson I basically have the drum instructor in the house too.”
Use a virtual private network (VPN) to ensure a secure connection: “Sometimes people will think, ‘well, it’s too much trouble to go through all that hassle of logging into my secure environment. I’ll just email this from my work account to my Gmail. I’ll work on it on my home computer and email it back.’ But the copy you worked on, on your home computer is still there if you didn’t remember to delete it and then empty the trash. And things like that accumulate over time. We all have old work stuck like barnacles to our home computer, and when the computer ages out you will give it to a kid or donate it to a church or a charity. That data that you didn’t even know was on there gets out and you don’t have control of it anymore.”
Don’t throw away documents at home: “I’ve had to remind the other lawyers in my firm a couple times, because we can’t do everything online, some things need to be printed, something need to be typed out and read. Then we generate garbage. When we generate paper waste at the office, we just put it in the shred bin and don’t worry about it. But at home, just this morning I found myself with two copies of an old document that I didn’t need. I can’t throw confidential information away in my kitchen trash and I shouldn’t put it in the recycle bin. What we tell our employees to do is keep a box or folder at home of any sort of office trash you are generating and save it there until your next trip up to the office and you can throw it in the shred bin.
Dress for success, even for a Zoom meeting from home: ‘When I’m preparing for a meeting online, I remember the words of a senior attorney who mentored me. He said ‘casual dress leads to casual thinking.’ He very much took the position that if you take the effort to make yourself look like a professional, your work is going to be more professional. And I think with an online meeting it’s exactly the same. If my plan is to roll into the business meeting at the last minute with pajama pants and a Velcro tie, well, … if I’m neglecting my appearance, I probably haven’t built in enough time to pay attention to other things, too.”
Final thoughts: “Working remotely has been a big adjustment for everyone who has had to do it. By and large, I think that everyone who has had to do this is far better at it now than they were a month ago. Even old dogs can learn new tricks. But I think it’s more important now than ever to slow down and be careful and be deliberate. When you are in a remote environment when you might be in a house with children or you might be in a car in the drive-thru line or you might be waiting your turn outside at Walmart until enough people come out so that you can walk in, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to security and be aware of who’s listening or may be able to get access to your information.”