By Scott Meacham
This past week, we reopened our offices. For a few weeks, for the safety or our staff and the community, we shuttered our space and worked remotely, although we never really “closed.”
Working remotely, we negotiated term sheets, concluded a major funding round for an exciting new Oklahoma startup, and held the Loves’ Entrepreneur’s Cup Business and Pitch Competition and Awards Ceremony (all virtually).
We also rolled out our first cohort of e3, our reimagined and redesigned four-week workshop series to Evaluate, Equip, and Empower Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs to perform structured market validation before they launch their new business.
“e3 is the founder’s map and compass; the program lets you confirm where you’ve gone in the right direction and provides the tools and guidance to help you reorient where you are off course,” Richard Jackson, founder of ConnectTix, told us.
e3 is the most robust program in the region—and it was launched just as COVID was gaining steam. The staff turned on a dime and converted the classroom program to Zoom and they and five new startups from across the state successfully completed all the workshops, mentoring sessions, and classroom assignments as if everyone had always planned to do the work from their homes over Zoom.
Before COVID, we would have insisted, with many good reasons, that entrepreneurs participating in e3 attend workshops in person. We would have preferred mentoring and advisory sessions in person. We wouldn’t have anticipated that collaborative relationships and connections between entrepreneurs from industries as diverse as bioscience, automotive, and entertainment, could evolve in a virtual environment as naturally as if we were all face-to-face.
I believe that the term paradigm shift is way over-used, but as we move into this new normal, paradigm shift is what we are talking about.
Instead of believing that we have to validate the “why” of working remotely, in less than 90 days, companies of all sizes and stripes are asking “why not.”
If in January, the businesses of Oklahoma had set forth a New Year’s resolution to study the impact of working at home versus coming to the office, it would have taken a room full of consultants and six months to spec out a plan. Instead, a prototype was forced upon us all. And look at what we have learned from March to June—about tele-commuting, tele-medicine, and online instruction for every type and age of student, just to name a few.
We have learned the benefits. For example, it seems easier to get a doctor’s appointment for a telemedicine visit, and many situations can be addressed without an office visit. We also understand the problems and challenges. If we are going to work from home, we need flexible, affordable solutions for childcare.
This is a real world example of market validation—which brings me back around to e3 and a quote from Oklahoma’s philosopher cowboy, Will Rogers, “You can’t have a picnic unless the party carrying the basket comes.”
Starting a company from scratch is never a picnic, but with support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) and with the rigor and structure of e3, Oklahoma entrepreneurs learn what to put in that basket to succeed.
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.