By Greater OKC Chamber staff
i2E, a nonprofit that focuses on growing innovative small businesses in Oklahoma and making a positive impact on the state’s economy, is celebrating its 20th year of investing in entrepreneurs to build successful high growth companies in the state. While i2E officially started in 1998, the need for its services was born much earlier. As the state emerged from the oil bust of the 1980s, the need to create a more diversified economy became apparent.
“Our economy was tied to the ups and downs of the energy industry and had been since before statehood,” said Scott Meacham, president and CEO of i2E. “Out of that grew some initiatives to help encourage more research at higher education institutions.”
The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) was created to encourage that investment, and the state legislature directed OCAST to create a technology commercialization center with a nonprofit entity to manage it. i2E was born out of this directive to diversify and build Oklahoma’s economy for the future.
Before i2E, Oklahoma had limited resources for startups and entrepreneurs – no startup capital, entrepreneurship programs, business accelerators or co-working spaces. Since i2E was founded, the organization has fostered and created more opportunities for entrepreneurship. And by creating a community of startups in the IT, software and bioscience industries, Oklahoma’s economy is more diversified than ever.
“As a community, Oklahoma City has continued to thrive during an energy downturn that was every bit as bad as the downturn in the ‘80s as far as the price of oil goes,” Meacham said. “So what I think that’s shown is we have diversified.”
In its early years, i2E served as a source for business advice and networking. Since that time, the organization has expanded its mission to offer investment capital and act as a virtual accelerator. Currently, i2E has a little more than $60 million under management that they invest in Oklahoma startups.
In the last 20 years, i2E has worked with more than 700 companies that have created 2,500 jobs, an annual payroll of more than $90 million and an average wage of $66,000. Several of i2E’s investments have become major success stories, including WeGoLook and Selexys Pharmaceuticals. The 266 investments made by i2E total more than $50 million in local companies, and as a result, those companies have raised an additional $667 million.
“We’ve got a really cool environment that supports and embraces entrepreneurs and their startups, and a good capital system in place to get entrepreneurs through the proof-of-concept phase,” Meacham said. “Our next challenge is finding the next round of capital to start scaling businesses. We don’t really want to grow them up and then have them be picked off to move to some other state.”