StarSpace46 co-founder Tommy Yi talks about his career, and more than a decade of helping entrepreneurs bring their big ideas to life.Read More
Going back at least as far as the Land Run of 1889, many have seen Oklahoma as a place of opportunity. A place to start a farm, or a business, or a family. Jaret Martin, one of the partners at StarSpace46, shares this view, as well. I recently sat down with Jaret at one of our favorite local restaurants, Sala Thai, to chat about his passions, and what he foresees in the future of Oklahoma City.
"I think we've got a unique opportunity to build something special here in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma, as well," Martin said of the current business scene. And that's a big statement, coming from someone who has traveled to more than 60 different countries since graduating from Oklahoma State University.
"I've lived and worked on both sides of the country, the east and west coast. And I've also lived abroad. I've worked on everything from agriculture to tech," he related. "I got my start in tech sales, and that transitioned into working on impact projects that solve real-world problems. And those are the companies that I like to work with."
Coworking on the West Coast vs. No Coast
Before landing in Central Oklahoma, Martin was a founding member of ATLAS Workbase, a flexible workspace in Seattle, Washington. During his time at ATLAS, Martin learned a lot about what it takes to nurture a coworking space, and the need to focus on user experience. "When I came back to Oklahoma, I actually came into StarSpace as a member. And I was amazed at this organic, almost viral movement with Techlahoma," he said. Soon after, he was brought on as a new member of the StarSpace46 team.
Martin explains that the entire SS46 team has always held high expectations for the venture. "Filling a space with a lot of smart people has an exciting effect. That's where people can dream together and launch new ventures. We needed a space that promotes these collisions; a safe spot for people to come and dream big."
A vital function of the partners at SS46 is building a community, as Martin explained: "We're building a community that unlocks a lot of doors. We're also exploring what those next steps are. We're exploring what the building blocks are that we can stack on top of our foundation, which can provide even more value to the members of the community."
An Ecosystem of Safe Collisions
Creating a coworking ecosystem that cultivates safe collisions is a passionate part of Martin's life work. So how, exactly, do you make way for these collisions? "Think of it as a wider and wider scope, more of a safety net. A place for somebody to come in and say, 'Hey, I've got this idea!' And if you've got a lot of people around that are resourceful, they can help guide and focus your idea and even give you feedback on the areas that may not be your expert domain."
"And so it becomes the safety net in a way. People want to see you succeed. So if you can build a community that has similar values, people buy into those values and care about one another. You can build some really neat ventures."
I asked Martin where he thinks OKC is headed within the next few years. He anticipates a more decentralized approach to entrepreneurship: "The decentralized approach is saying, if you've got an idea, let's surround you and your concept with fractionalized experts."
A Flexible Workforce Made of Moms
StarSpace46 isn't the only project Martin has in the works. After a recent "collision" with Ally and Stephen Meyers, co-founders of Moms on MissionS, the three of them arrived at a new concept that will help change the way people work in Oklahoma City and beyond.
"If there's one hero in my life, it's my mom. I grew up with a disabled brother. My mom sacrificed a lot to take care of my brother. In a way, she's this unsung hero," Martin conveyed.
"In dreaming with Ally and Stephen, we realized that there's this entire unsung workforce of stay-at-home moms,” he recounted. “When you look at moms who care for the family, they exhibit all the characteristics of someone a smart company would want to hire. Often, they make that decision to stay at home based out of childcare costs alone. So we're building a platform called Suma to facilitate a way to take on more flexible work.
"We've found that a lot of these moms are highly skilled women. They've got professional degrees, and they're responsible. Being able to match them with employers, whether it's more of a micro job, a fractional expert, or even full-time remote employment is our driving purpose."
The tech sector is revolutionary because, for the first time in history, people from all corners of the earth have the opportunity to take part in entrepreneurship. Many of the most valuable and influential companies today were developed in garages with minimal investment. The technology created by these companies has played an even broader role by breaking away from traditional models and allowing for unconventional systems of collaboration and marketing. This idea of bringing people with independent backgrounds and ideas together for the greater good is a passion for Mike Slack, one of the partners at StarSpace46.
Mike Slack became a part of SS46 through his fundraising work with Techlahoma. Through a project he began in the winter of 2015, Slack got plugged into the grassroots technology community in Oklahoma City. “The 404, what we sometimes refer to as the predecessor of StarSpace46, was a tech-oriented coworking space of limited square footage. Some of the principal parties involved in the 404 and the Techlahoma campaign got together to establish the plan for StarSpace46.”
Outside of his involvement with SS46 and Techlahoma, Slack spends his days helping corporate teams navigate the sometimes complicated path of custom applications and software. He is the Vice President for Sales and Marketing at Clevyr, an innovative local company who creates organization products designed to improve community and collaboration. Slack’s team at Clevyr ensures that clients enjoy a smooth experience throughout the sales process, and beyond.
“Enterprise/Custom software development decisions are fairly complicated, typically involving senior company leadership, marketing and or sales leaders, IT leadership, and software developers,” Slack said. “The enterprise software sales leader is like the conductor of an orchestra. My job is to help decision makers work through the struggle of buying something big, expensive, and nebulous.”
Slack is recognizable to many people due to his role in a variety of community projects. Each year, he takes on on a select number of nonprofit consulting projects. He is an active volunteer at his church, Grace United Methodist, and on the advisory board of the Downtown YMCA. He’s also influenced several generations of Oklahoma City’s entrepreneurs through his part-time gig in education. Professor Slack is part of the adjunct faculty at Oklahoma City University, teaching a course on Program Evaluation for the Nonprofit Leadership program.
So what is the driving force that keeps him motivated? “I want to be involved in work where I make a measurable impact. I’d be miserable at a company where my job was to keep the status quo or lead nominal growth. Sales is a perfect fit for my personality because I want the awards of my work to be tied to my achievements.”
This ceaseless drive seems to have been instilled at a very young age. “One of the more impactful symbols of America that I remember from civics class as a kid is the melting pot. A place where myriad people, backgrounds, and ideas come together. That amalgamation of diversity in the melting pot is what makes this soup we call America. I believe StarSpace46 is a microcosm of the American experiment - with a particularly strong flavor of technology, entrepreneurship, and startups. Insofar as OKC is interested in having a thriving startup ecosystem, StarSpace46 will be here, making our soup, and sharing it with all who wish to partake.”