By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
A healthy economy is like a healthy forest.
In a healthy forest, you see certain large trees that provide tremendous shade and cover for the benefit of the rest of the forest.
Then you see these medium-size growing trees that will someday reach the big tree stage.
And way, way down at ground level, there are hundreds and hundreds of tiny saplings that are trying to put down roots. Those saplings will struggle, and struggle hard, just to survive. Eventually some percentage of them will grow into the really big trees that are so beneficial to the forest.
Just as it takes all the different sizes of trees at the different stages of growth to keep the forest healthy and alive, so it is with Oklahoma’s innovation economy.
The state Department of Commerce, local Chambers of Commerce and city development tend to work more on our really big and growing “trees.” Big corporations need incentives and a good business climate to nurture them to get them to grow in or locate to a community. Growing companies need skilled labor and available capital from traditional sources to expand.
It’s different for the baby trees — our state’s startup companies.
They need mentoring and early stage capital — the type of capital that is the hardest to come by — the type of risk capital that comes from the Seed Capital Fund, a fund that in May (coincidentally Small Business month) received a $2 million reduction as the state struggled to fund its budget.
Recently, i2E closed its first investment from the GrowOK Fund, placing $1 million in the Oklahoma firm Monscierge.
This investment was part of a $2.05 million investment round joined by Oklahoma angel investors and Texas-based Affinity Angel Investment Fund.
Monscierge is an Oklahoma startup and, now, a global hospitality industry technology company that gives hotels tools that make it really simple to communicate with their guests through mobile devices and touch screens. In less than five years, Monscierge is being used by many of the best-known hotel brands around the world. Before long, Monscierge will be in more than 3,000 hotels worldwide in 90 countries.
Monscierge is one of those Oklahoma seedlings that is taking root.
The story of this Oklahoma startup company and dozens more like it really began about 15 years ago.
That’s when the Oklahoma Legislature planted the seeds of today’s innovation economy — committing state resources toward building a self-sustaining climate of entrepreneurship and investment in entrepreneurial companies that is now reaping dividends.
Let’s hope that state support for economic development and the entrepreneurial environment it has created and nurtured for the last 15 years continues so that more companies like Monscierge can create more revenue and jobs for Oklahoma.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at [email protected].