Nathaniel Harding and James Spann, Jr.
"The Oklahoma Advantage with SSBCI"
by Dennis Spielman
The State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), a longstanding program, received increased funding through the CARES Act, with allocations directed to each state based on guidelines from the US Treasury. In Oklahoma, these funds were strategically invested in various venture capital funds to nurture the state’s growing venture capital market. Over the past five years, the number of venture capital firms in Oklahoma has multiplied, showcasing the region’s emerging entrepreneurial landscape. The Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) played a pivotal role in distributing SSBCI dollars to several funds, including allocations to Cortado Ventures and Boyd Street Ventures. This initiative reflects a concerted effort to stimulate innovation and economic growth within Oklahoma’s business ecosystem. On December 13, Managing Partners from Cortado Ventures and Boyd Street Ventures will speak to members of the Oklahoma Venture Forum about venture capital in Oklahoma.
After college, Nathaniel Harding embarked on a career in a prominent oil and gas company that later led him to take over and successfully sell the family business. Subsequently, he founded his own oil and gas exploration company, where he adeptly applied technology to innovate within the industry. Alongside his entrepreneurial endeavors, Harding served in the Air Force, deploying to Afghanistan in 2012 and contributing to logistics and geospatial intelligence. Balancing roles as a reservist and an entrepreneur from 2009 to 2017, Harding later diversified into technology investments, laying the groundwork for establishing Cortado Ventures—a testament to his dedication to supporting and investing in innovative ventures.
Cortado Ventures invests in efficient businesses that leverage technology to scale in the Fintech, Biotech, Aerospace, Ag Tech, Energy Tech, Manufacturing, and Logistics sectors. For entrepreneurs looking for an investment, Harding recommends they visit their website at cortado.ventures to see if they would be a good fit. While not widely known, they offer free executive coaching through our partners at Magellan Executive Partners.
“That’s a critical piece, I think, because those early years of forming a company can be lonely,” said Nathaniel Harding, Managing Partner at Cortado Ventures. “A lot of times, you don’t even have a board yet. Or if you do have a board, the board covers a lot of things in terms of governance and strategy, but not a lot of things in terms of professional development.”
James Spann’s career journey reflects a diverse and entrepreneurial spirit, starting with his time as a Navy ROTC graduate from the University of Oklahoma. With nearly seven years in the Marine Corps and subsequent corporate roles, Spann thrived in structured environments but always embraced high-risk challenges, showcasing an entrepreneurial mindset. In 2016, after three decades in corporate America, he recognized an opportunity to address the need for more support for innovative startups emerging from OU. This realization led to the founding of Boyd Street Ventures in 2021, a venture capital firm focused on supporting Oklahoma startups. Spann and co-founder Jeff Moore launched the firm with a mission to build meaningful partnerships, remaining nimble to market opportunities. Their dedication culminated in establishing Fund 1, a $25 million capital fund that propels innovations to new heights in the state. Spann’s journey highlights years of research, collaboration, and hard work, emphasizing his commitment to fostering entrepreneurship in Oklahoma.
“We have a strong commitment to supporting minority, female, and socially economically disabled founders, socioeconomic and disadvantaged founders through our Boyd Street Endowment,” said James Spann, Jr. MBA, Founder and Managing Partner of Boyd Street Ventures. “One of the things that I saw when I was looking at entrepreneurs in Oklahoma, and we had a lot of minority startups that couldn’t get access to capital, so we found that the Boyd Street Endowment Fund. And the Endowment Fund is specifically focused on investing in minority and female founders in the state of Oklahoma.”
One unique aspect about Boyd Street Ventures many people don’t know is they’ve built the venture studio model inside of their fund to help companies to scale, and they provide de-risking strategy and operational guidance for their portfolio companies.
By the time of the upcoming Power Lunch event, Harding said they plan to have launched fund two with 80 million in capital. He plans to share a preview of Cortado Ventures’ focus for 2024 at the event.
“Anybody who wants to invest alongside us or any founders who want to learn how they can pitch our team, then we have a lot of dry powder, as they say in the business,” said Harding. “We have a lot of deployable capital that we’re looking to invest over the next two or three years.”
“We’re looking forward to generating strong returns for our investors over the next several years and doing great things in the state of Oklahoma and for Oklahoma entrepreneurs,” said Spann. “We’re not stopping with Fund 1. We are pushing forward to Fund 2 and going to make a lot of great things happen in Oklahoma.”
“I think most know Oklahoma has some of the lowest tax rates and some of the best tax incentives in the nation in our small state,” said Spann. “And I’ve talked about that as I’ve gone out to the marketplace to try and raise money to educate others about Oklahoma because we have a lot of great things going on in the state. And this SSBCI funding that we receive from venture capital allows us to boast that to the rest of the world. And the state offers companies a low cost of doing business, a low cost of living for employees, tax rebates that reduce tax burdens even further.”
Nathaniel Harding and James Spann will be part of a panel discussion at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, December 13, 2023. Attendees can expect to gain invaluable insights into the impact of SSBCI funds on fostering innovation, promoting economic development, and nurturing innovative technologies in Oklahoma. The event will be open to members and guests in person at Metro Tech Spring Lake Campus (1900 Springlake Drive in Oklahoma City) and online via ZOOM.
“OVF is a great place to regularly network with other investors of different stages and sectors, but also innovators, people who support ecosystem builders, people who support developing this market for entrepreneurs,” said Harding. “So, really, it’s the best place to have those intersections between all three.”
Register to attend the December 13th OVF Power Lunch