By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
One of the real changes we’ve seen in Oklahoma over the past 10 to 15 years is a groundswell of talented young people who want to be career entrepreneurs and start their own high growth companies.
We first met Stacey Brandhorst when she was working on her MBA at OSU and competing in the Governor’s Cup (now Love’s Cup Competition) with a business plan for PristineCal, a company that produced ultrapure calcium powder. Stacey won the pitch and interview competitions, but the PristineCal business plan didn’t place.
“After we lost, i2E approached us,” Brandhorst recollects, “and said that if we were still serious about taking the business on, we could come through the i2E Proof of Concept Center. We worked for 12 weeks, graduated from the program, and in the big final pitch thanked everyone by saying that we had decided NOT to move forward with PristineCal because we had come to realize the market wasn’t there.
“Sure, we failed, but in that failure, it was a win because we pivoted and went off to try something else,” she said.
Eventually, Brandhorst returned to i2E — this time as a venture adviser teaching in a later more, compact iteration of the same class where she had been a student.
“In my almost three years at i2E, I have seen more companies than most people ever see — 300 businesses and many more than 300 mistakes,” she said. “I’ve seen companies go the way of PristineCal and I’ve seen huge exits. I’ve seen entrepreneurs who are literally one year out of college and serial entrepreneurs who are coming off their latest IPO. The experience and insight I gained at i2E is every entrepreneur’s dream. There is literally no place like it for learning how to become a better entrepreneur.”
Brandhorst was the self-described hole-poker and problem-finder — the one who is always pointing out things that can be done better.
“I’m a tough critic and I ask the hard questions,” she said, “I’ve seen things fail that looked like they should work, but if entrepreneurship were easy, everyone would be doing it.”
And now Brandhorst has moved to a new opportunity — COO of iRecommend, a Tulsa-based startup that she got to know through her advisory work at i2E. iRecommend’ s proprietary software is revolutionizing the search and product recommendation functions that connect retailers and customers.
Stacey Brandhorst’s entrepreneurial journey is a 100 percent Oklahoma story, and exactly how things are supposed to work. She is the beneficiary of a knowledge transfer from dozens of Oklahoma entrepreneurs who came before.
And what’s the most important thing Brandhorst learned?
“There are people everywhere in Oklahoma cheering for us,” she said. “They want us to win. They want the rest of the world to see that Oklahoma is a state that is friendly and helpful to startups and entrepreneurs. Oklahoma is hungry for another tech win, and at iRecommend, we are working to be that win.”
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 support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.