“We are a very hypocritical state,” says Dirk Spiers, one of the leading industrial entrepreneurs in Oklahoma City.
He doesn’t like how the Oklahoma Legislature is talking about valuing education without supporting it with funding.
His startup, Spiers New Technologies remanufactures battery packs that come out of electric vehicles, industrial machines and energy storage packs.
He likes Oklahoma City, but says that he is “very worried” about the negative processes he sees in the Legislature.
Free Press visited his operation on the north side of Oklahoma City recently.
“Everyone tells me that education is important, STEM is important, and that we take seriously the future of our kids,” said Spiers.
But he doesn’t see the evidence.
“We have this huge problem with education. Every day you read about schools closing, cutting back, teachers leaving, four-day weeks,” he said.
Spiers said a company like his needs to be able to attract people from other states, but that is very hard to do when the Legislature doesn’t seem to have any real desire to fund education at adequate levels.
“If we start cutting on this level and the school level, where do we get our engineers of the future? In five years’ time where do our engineers come from? In 10 years’ time? It’s incredibly worrying,” Spiers said.
“One of the biggest problems I see in Oklahoma is the brain drain,” Spiers said. “Everyone wants to leave Oklahoma. Bright students always want to leave.”
He criticized the Legislature’s efforts to remove incentives the state once promised the wind industry. And he pointed to the guarding of incentives for the oil and gas industry as “protection of the status quo.”
“They started to tax solar panels a year ago or so, which is outrageous, because it’s the fastest growing form of energy right now and it’s becoming the cheapest form of energy,” Spiers said.
“They want to now come up with this punitive tax for electric vehicles. And the people who put a bill together, from what we can see, don’t even know the difference between an electric vehicle, a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid vehicle,” Spiers said. “But, yet, they come up with some policy which is so ill-advised.”
He pointed out that when the state continues to cut its budget and only has a focus on cutting taxes it will speak to others who are thinking about locating here in the future.
And when it comes to his own taxes, he is willing to pay “a little more for a better product than pay less for a product that doesn’t work.”
Spiers said that the biggest fossil fuel companies are already openly working for a future in which fossil fuels that once made them famous will no longer be the focus of the company. He said the CEO of Shell is predicting that fossil fuels have maybe another 25 years left.
He pointed out that Saudi Arabia that has become so wealthy from fossil fuels is “spending billions diversifying into renewables.”
Spiers said that some of the biggest solar projects are in Saudi Arabia and The Arab Emirates.
“This is not me pointing a finger at anyone,” said Spiers. “I’m just saying this is what’s happening in the world and Oklahoma is a part of that world. And it will happen here.”
Spiers Technologies is in the business of giving new life to the kind of large battery packs used in electric vehicles and machinery.
“We refurbish battery packs and we repurpose battery packs. And we make stationary energy storage systems,” said Spiers.
In his third year of developing the startup he says they are “debt free and have money in the bank.” It’s an enviable position for a startup so early in its life.
The story of his beginnings is a typical bare-bones startup story.
When they acquired the first of two warehouses they now use, they didn’t even have toilets installed and had to spend a considerable amount of their resources on just cleaning up the place and installing their own fixtures, most of which they constructed themselves.
When they started Dec. 29, 2014, it was just Spiers and one other person doing it all.
Now in their third year, the company has two warehouse spaces and 55 employees.
They are a do-it-yourself type of company.
Spiers and his first few employees built their own fixtures and had to invent and build the testing machines they now use. They even developed their own proprietary software for testing the packs.
In fact, the conference table we sat at for the initial interview was one they had built themselves.
Their process allows materials that would end up in a land fill to go back into use again. He believes that green power such as wind, solar, and batteries to store the energy are the future.
Even though quite critical of the current Legislature, Spiers is appreciative for the ways the state has helped him to grow.
He pointed to the programs OCAST, or Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology, has that have helped him connect with future employees.
And he also was very positive about the I2E or Innovation to Enterprise program that brought investor dollars to him early on.