Creation of OCAST responsible for boosted entrepreneurship in Oklahoma
By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2016, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
I’ve worked in and up close to state government. I’ve seen the good times, and I’ve ridden through plenty of rough patches, too — like the one we’re experiencing now as our Legislature tries to figure out how to close a huge budget hole.
Through it all, I’ve seen a lot of activity and self-congratulation for accomplishments big and small.
What I haven’t seen is a moment of legislative clarity equal to the moment nearly 30 years ago when state lawmakers created the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.
Think back to that time. In the mid- to late-’80s, there wasn’t an Internet. Not only were there no smartphones or iPhone apps, it took two hands and $2,499 to hold a mobile phone ($1,399 to have a car-mounted one that only worked when the car was running).
Yet that was when a visionary group of Oklahoma legislators, as well as business and community leaders, recognized that the state needed to create more innovation and help ensure the innovation that was occurring resulted in jobs and economic benefit for the state.
Embracing a challenge
They embraced the challenge by committing the resources — immediate and long term — to create more science, more research and more innovation.
The Legislature created OCAST, and when they did, as part of the enabling statue, they required OCAST to create something called the “commercialization center,” an entity required to be a private, not-for-profit company under the OCAST umbrella with the mission of providing commercialization services, attracting and retaining technology, and attracting capital to build high-growth companies in Oklahoma.
i2E was the original contractor. First dubbed the Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center and then, in 1998, rebranded i2E, our company began as an unprecedented public-private partnership to provide commercialization under private contract to the state.
Since then, i2E has served more than 600 Oklahoma companies. Our impact ranges from encouraging Oklahoma’s best and brightest students to consider entrepreneurship as a career through the Governor’s Cup, to providing advisory services that accelerate high-growth startups in Oklahoma, to investing capital to help those companies grow and expand.
In hindsight, voting for innovation back in the ’80s was a transformational moment for Oklahoma. There aren’t many of those in any state.
The question facing Oklahoma today is whether our current Legislature in the current crisis will have the will and foresight to continue the tremendous economic impact of that transformational moment when we stood tall and invested to make innovation an economic driver in this state.
It is easy for politicians to sacrifice the long-term best interests of our state for the immediate needs of the crisis of the day.
Oklahoma desperately needs the resource that was created almost 30 years ago to drive innovation, jobs and wealth creation in our state.
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 and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.