One block west of Lawton City Hall, an innovative venture called “One Degree Collaboration” occupies a newly remodeled brick building that once housed the administrative offices of Platt College.
In an adaptive re-use of existing space, it will serve as a business incubator specializing in helping veteran entrepreneurs – “vetrepreneurs,” if you will – take their start-ups to the next level. It’s also open to military spouses, military dependents and military retirees, and it provides services to a more general crowd as well.
Meegan Kriley-Mackay purchased the building at 1001-1011 SW B Ave. earlier this year, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and renovations to the structure have been ongoing ever since.
Kriley-Mackay said that in 2013 she, her former Air Force spouse and their daughter were living in Altus. He was affected by a military reduction in force, and after 11 months of failed interviews with corporate commercial airlines, they moved to Lawton.
“He had all the hard technical skills on a resume to do the job, but he lacked the soft people skills to connect in person and build rapport and pass the interview. I realized we weren’t alone, and there were a lot of others who needed help. I formed the nonprofit Skills for L.I.F.E. Foundation, which is the core of everything we’re doing, and we help transitioning service members and spouses take an idea into start-up business.
“And through One Degree Collaboration, we share knowledge, skills, networks and experience that is really helping each other navigate the difficulty in starting a business,” she said.
After a couple years of struggling because they needed a better set of resources, Kriley-Mackay created a limited liability corporation, Artes pro Vita Academy, which is a for-profit service that helps fund the nonprofit side of the house. The academy contracts to create professional development training for government entities, municipalities and corporations that want to build teams and fill the skills gap.
Kriley-Mackay said she closed a deal to buy the building from its former owner one week before the COVID-19 lockdown in March. She already had her first tenant, Angel Melvin, sole owner and CEO of Light Alive Marketing since 2012, who said she had outgrown a smaller setting a block away and moved in right before the building changed hands.
They realized at once that what they do complemented each other.
“She does the coaching and mentoring, and we do the marketing. So whenever it comes to helping other businesses, we can bring all the pieces together to walk somebody through,” Melvin said.
Melvin and Kriley-Mackay put their heads down and started working from home to figure out what to do. Kriley-Mackay brought her daughter and her former spouse to start cleaning up a building that had sat empty for 5½ years.
“One person came as a referral. And Barbara Clark came to me and said, ‘I have a real estate business, but it’s in my home, and I’d like to have a storefront.’ And all of a sudden, one thing led to another, and five months later we have nine ‘vetrepreneur’ start-up businesses, three classrooms, and what we’ve done is form a brand-new LLC called One Degree Collaboration, which is really a start-up business incubator. We are here to do it the way it’s never been done,” Kriley-Mackay said.
For people who have small businesses, work from home and can’t afford to invest in bricks and mortar, the building has four suites that they can rent by the hour or by the day so that they can have a professional place to meet with clients. The furniture, Wi-Fi and printers are all right there.
“In addition to that, the three classrooms are going to be available to all the members and the community to have workshops and events to promote business knowledge and acumen. Say, if you’re in a start-up business and you need to know how to set up a Facebook page, Angel and the team can teach you how to do it on your own, or (you can) bring on Angel as a client,” Kriley-Mackay said.
“So we’re going to pack the calendar with events and workshops, presentations, evenings, weekends, and start to make it a place where people can come and really take an idea, move it into a business and create jobs and build the economy. That’s the dream, and it all just came about because we were promoting each other,” Kriley-Mackay said.
The businesses in One Degree Collaboration include the following:
• Light Alive Marketing, which Melvin started as a home-based freelancer and grew to a team of 12. They specialize in graphic design, web design, video production, commercial photography and on the marketing side, personalized, strategized marketing for businesses.
• High Tech Office Systems, owned by Trent Dockstetter. His laser-refurbished printer business is actually located at 1805 Cache Road, but he needed storage space.
• Artes pro Vita Academy gets its name from the Latin for “skills for life.” This is Kriley-Mackay’s S corporation, which has existed since 2013 and is moving from start-up to growth mode. This is where she does government contracts and corporation training.
• Triune Light LLC, is soon-to-be-retired Army Drill Sgt. Janell Harris’s start-up. She is a certified Equal Opportunity/Title 9 Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program trainer.
• Winter Photography & Design was created by military veteran spouse Holly Hoad, one of Kriley-Mackay’s part-time team members. She has a studio set aside for her to do private and personal photography.
• Coffee with Kathy was created by military dependent Kathy Biggs, who moved here from New Jersey. She is a certified Life Mastery coach who will help individuals look at where they are in life, personally and professionally, and determine what they want and how they are going to do it.
• VetS4L stands for Veteran Solutions for Life. Gary Hunsucker, a 33-year military veteran, offers one-on-one mentoring for service members, their spouses and dependents, and veterans as they are transitioning out of the military into civilian life.
• Work-Life-Work is run by Teaneishia Hunter, an active-duty service member who is one of Kriley-Mackay’s certified trainers as a Department of Defense SkillBridge intern. Work-Life-Work means taking your work and making it your life’s work. She is certified to administer DISC profiles and the Myers-Briggs personality assessment as well as do the John C. Maxwell style of high-level leadership training.