By Scott Meacham
“Necessity is the mother of invention.” This saying is commonly attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato. After multiple translations from ancient Greek over more than 2000 years, it is no surprise that scholars debate the exact wording that Plato used in The Republic, but regardless his observation is spot on: When the need to do something is strong enough, humans will find a way.
If ever there was a time that fits Plato’s proverb, it is now. We are several weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, and while I wouldn’t say that the shock of this new reality has worn off, we are figuring out ways to adapt.
There is no such thing as pause for entrepreneurs and innovators building new businesses. Even in a pandemic, they must pivot, flex their creative muscles and resolve, and keep moving forward. And there is no such thing as pause for those of us who support them.
i2E’s Venture Assessment Program (VAP) has been a great tool for helping Oklahoma startups rigorously perform structured market validation of their ideas and solutions before they start creating “great” products that the market doesn’t want to buy. Since inception in 2015, more than 150 companies in 30 cohorts have graduated VAP.
We are an organization that believes in continuous improvement, so for as successful as VAP had been, last summer we set about revising the structure and curriculum to make it better.
We tasked a work group to examine every aspect of how we were helping entrepreneurial teams de-risk their startups and build the best high-growth businesses possible. We reworked the classroom and workshop content. We decided to supplement our program with video — which serendipitously we didn’t outsource but learned to develop ourselves.
We reworked charts and slides. We responded to entrepreneurs’ requests for more interactive time in class. They wanted to hear more about other entrepreneurs’ businesses and challenges, so we expanded that, too. We tested, packaged, planned—and e3 was born. Our fist e3 cohort was confirmed and ready to launch—you guessed it—the end of March.
i2E is an organization that preaches the value of pivoting—and pivot we did. In a couple of weeks, we converted e3 from classroom to online. We learned how to make the sessions interactive, keeping everyone engaged and conversational. Between sessions, we have one-on-one calls between entrepreneurs and our director of client engagement and venture advisors. Our inaugural cohort of entrepreneurs are enthusiastic about the new format.
With e3, we didn’t just repaint the car. We got under the hood, and then when COVID-19 hit, we changed the tires while the car was going 100 miles an hour.
e3 is the most robust program of its kind in the region. Evaluate. Equip. Empower. It is example of Oklahoma’s resilient commitment to support entrepreneurs.
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 i2E_Comments@i2E.org.