By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Twenty years ago, when i2E (first known as the Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center), came into being there wasn’t a startup scene in Oklahoma. The economy was all about oil and gas, and agriculture and commercial real estate. We had no venture capital.
Most young people weren’t encouraged toward careers in entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship wasn’t a part of the curriculum in our business schools.
My, how things in Oklahoma have changed.
i2E began as a source of business services to help entrepreneurs and innovators successfully move new technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace. For people with high-growth ideas, we were a place to come for help, the cornerstone of a nascent community of entrepreneurs.
For every hour of every day since then, we’ve been helping entrepreneurs build new companies that succeed.
In those early days, we didn’t have to talk with very many entrepreneurs — maybe two — before it was clear that all the good advice and training in best practices wasn’t going to move the needle unless entrepreneurs had access to investment capital.
There was considerable concern and skepticism about authorizing taxpayers’ money to seed young businesses — but once, with OCAST’s leadership, the Technology Business Finance Program fund and the Seed Fund were approved, we were on our way to creating a legacy. In the intervening years, i2E has served 700 client companies and entrepreneurs and has managed six early stage investment funds, making 266 investments totaling more than $50 million.
Our advisory services have evolved to a laser-focus on specific training and mentoring that leads to real customers creating real revenue by purchasing products that meet market needs.
With more than $60 million under management, we are now closing more investments in a quarter than in the early days we closed in a year. More high-quality deals in the pipeline accelerates the demand for later stage capital. i2E created growth capital funds to address that.
We are helping to grow the leadership and talent that our portfolio companies need. More than 2,000 college students from campuses across Oklahoma have participated in the Love’s Cup or its predecessor, the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup competition.
Our clients, new companies like iRecommend in Tulsa and WeGoLook in Oklahoma City, have created more than 460 Oklahoma jobs averaging annual salaries of about $75,000. We are also expanding venture services into the rural areas of the state.
For Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs, i2E is the point of consistency. There’s never going to be a crystal ball to tell us what to prepare for next. But we will continue to apply the experience from being down in the trenches with Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs day in and day out for the last 20 years.
We have proved our ability to pivot and to adapt to changes in the market we serve. i2E has been in lockstep with entrepreneurs and startups for two decades now. We can’t wait to continue the march and see what the future holds.
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.