Mike Basch
Atento Capital
Published in
7 min readFeb 18, 2022


A dispatch from the revolution happening in Tulsa

A look back at progress in 2021

By Michael Basch

Just as I sat down to write a 2021 roundup, I was hit with that notorious scratch in my throat. Appropriately enough, I spent the last 10 days of the year quarantined with COVID, and my “year in review” is coming out in February.

Me and the two loves of my life, Romi and Leo.

The main event of 2021 in the world of Michael Basch was learning to become a dad. Thankfully, my patient wife Romi is a trained developmental child therapist. It is amazing to see what a year can make: Leo, who was barely opening his eyes on January 1st, 2021 is now a walking, talking, and never stopping 13-month-old a year later. Seeing this troublemaker blossom has been the experience of a lifetime.

Just before coming down with COVID, I spent a few days in San Francisco, and before that, New York. The former was fully shut down, and the latter was teeming with people, but almost no one seemed to be in the office. I found this shocking coming from Tulsa, which unlike either San Francisco or New York, is fully business as usual. While most of my world is triple-vaxed and took COVID protocols seriously, there has been little gap between pre-and post-COVID life. Over the last three years, thousands (yes, thousands) of folks have moved to Tulsa from the coast, and have seemingly embraced its “choose-your-own-adventure” approach.

Atento in 2021

2021 marked Atento’s second full year in business, and we stayed busy. We expanded the team, moved into a new office, and continued to deploy capital.

The majority-minority team of Atentans continues to develop and mature. Will Gray was promoted to Managing Director of Atento Tulsa, Susan Spears has grown into an Investments Partner, and Josephine Nelms is Director of Operations. We have built onto our 2020 foundation with excellent hires — too many to name. A few highlights include Hugh Martin, who now heads up sourcing and Aina Fadina, who leads platform.

Our incredible team at Atento Capital outside of our new headquarters.

Spoiler alert: we also have 4 new folks all starting in January 2022: Daniel Goldstein heading up Israel on behalf of George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF)/Atento, Rosa Hathaway (LinkedIn), and Lawrence Watkins, both investors, and Francis Jee , who will be our entrepreneurial ecosystem integrator.

The Portfolio

Since our formation in January 2020, we have made nearly 40 investments: ⅔ in direct companies and ⅓ in venture funds. Our direct companies were split between deals we have led and deals we co-invested alongside one of our funds. Most investments were made in Tulsa, and some were based elsewhere in companies, entrepreneurs, and solutions we believed in.

Of the 40 investments, nearly half went to a BIPOC or female founder or GP. This is something we are intentional about in our hiring, sourcing, and overall funnel and is our contribution to increase the percentage of venture funding going to founders who are female and/or people of color. Our priority is to continue to democratize access to venture capital, and we deeply believe that there is alpha in investing in the typically underinvested.

Tulsa Ecosystem

When we invest in non-local companies, we always hope they expand to Tulsa. Same with the VCs we support. We have had over 20 companies do so since our inception, which added to 80 quality jobs at dynamic startups in Tulsa. For the VCs, which are mostly seed-stage, we aspire to lead a pre-seed investment here in Tulsa, and hopefully bring them in for the seed round and essentially hand the portfolio co/ball to them to take it from there. We have done this twice, and we hope that will prove a replicable process.

PatchRx is a non-local company we invested in last year. They moved their operations to Tulsa in July.

For the deals we led with Tulsa-based companies, we have had some successes and some learning opportunities: most notably our Tulsa portfolio has over 100 Tulsa-based people sitting within it at year-end 2021, and it feels like the beginning signs of an ecosystem being built. Prevailing wisdom suggests that mid-20s, single, (mostly) male founders tend to want to live in a bigger city and unfortunately two sets of such founders left Tulsa within 12 months. On the flip side, we have had 6 of our 12 Tulsa-based portfolio companies raise at higher priced round and valuation caps than our initial investment baseline. Ultimately, we view this as the key success metric, and needed capital for an early-stage company to survive and flourish.

One fun project of note in 2021, which was two years in the making, was the launch of 19 Days, a venture studio led by Jacob Johnson + Dan Fisher of Gitwit, and Joey Wignarajah. The studio will spin up 5–7 niche SAAS businesses, all built in Tulsa. We thought the blend of Gitwit’s coastal-caliber innovation engine (deep market research, product, go-to-market, and marketing skills) and Joey’s operational chops would provide opportunities both from an investment and Tulsa perspective. We are so bullish on the project that we have actually sublet our new office space from them and are literally next door to Gitwit and 19 Days. As one would expect, there is cold brew on tap.

Atento’s new office space neighboring our friends at Gitwit and 19 Days.

Being pre-seed (or even pre-pre-seed investors at times) investors, we are not expecting all of our companies to make it. But thus far all are progressing and growing, and excited for what’s ahead for the portfolio in 2022.

Outside of the Portfolio

2021 saw two main projects within our ecosystem develop into full-on independent organizations. Firstly, inTulsa, led by Meg Thomas, is a full-service talent solution for any company based in or expanding to Tulsa. With an army of recruiters, they have sourced and placed over 100 tech industry jobs in Tulsa in 2021–many of which were in the Atento portfolio. They are currently executing a massively ambitious hiring plan on behalf of electric vehicle company, Canoo, among several other larger-scale projects. Meg Thomas (who is half recruiter/half engineer/half consultant, which is too many halves to fit into one person) is just the human to lead the charge. We see inTulsa as one of the key unfair advantages we can offer our portfolio companies who are looking to grow and hire quickly here in Tulsa.

Let us not forget that 2021 was the 100-year anniversary of the Black Wall Street Race Massacre. In commemoration of the massacre, Build in Tulsa (BIT) was created with the aspiration of helping underinvested-in entrepreneurs and catalyzing a new generation of Black wealth both for Tulsans and those willing to move to Tulsa to build high-growth businesses. Led by Tulsa local superstar, Ashli Sims, and anchored by The George Kaiser Family Foundation and Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies (amongst others), there are three accelerators set up from ideation stage to product-market fit to meet founders where they are and place them on a flywheel of human and financial capital: Act House, Hillman/Lightship, and TechStars. Act House’s first cohort in Tulsa has already graduated with two companies receiving follow-on funding, and the second cohort is set to begin in a few weeks. We are looking to the BIT ecosystem to be a significant source of deal-flow for us in Tulsa, helping to expand opportunities for minority-owned entrepreneurs and make Tulsa the best place to start or grow a company.

Looking to 2022:

Aside from being more than slightly nervous about the midterms, there is quite a bit I am looking forward to in 2022, and questions I hope to answer:

  1. Are there ways beyond venture capital to achieve our mandate of driving above-market risk adjusted returns while driving upward mobility?
  2. Are there other partners in other geographies who could be synergistic for Atento/GKFF as well as Tulsa as a whole? Should we think about a geographic expansion? This would be a significant strategy pivot from our current unapologetic Tulsa focus.
  3. As we have now recruited a supremely talented team, do we want to move towards a more traditional fund model to have the carry to incentivize our Atentans to stay with us longer?
  4. Have I learned enough about being a dad to become a father of two (God willing) come June? I better have, because there is a baby girl due on my birthday — June 28, 2022!
Atentans checking out Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Ak.

We are always taking swings for the fences. Sometimes we get hits, sometimes we miss. A Vice article recently detailed one of our swings to get Tesla to move to town. While this was certainly a disappointing miss for us, I’m still proud of our collective team to have been at the plate swinging.

There’s no shortage of things to ponder in the year ahead. I can’t wait to see what 2022 has in store. None of this work would be possible without the support of our close friends and partners: GKFF, the amazing Atentans I work with every day, our founders, GPs, our ecosystem partners, fellow Tulsans, and my Romi and Leo.

As always, if any of the above resonates with you, don’t hesitate to reach out. We would love to get you involved.

Our closest friends and partners in the Tulsa Tech ecosystem at Guthrie Green.