By Scott Meacham
It’s always interesting to me how archetypal change in a state comes about. I’m talking of change that is so far-reaching and ultimately disruptive that it bores deep into a state’s DNA and puts that state on a different path.
The evolution of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Oklahoma is a homegrown example of archetypal change. Momentum began 30 years ago, when our state Legislature created Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) to diversify our state’s economy, and it continues to this day.
Change cycles that span decades depend on inflection points, actions and decisions that definitively alter the speed and direction of what is to come. The creation of i2E (originally called the Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center) 20 years ago is one of those inflection points.
i2E began as an advisory company with a little bit of cash to help entrepreneurs advance their ideas. The vision was that we would supply basic training to entrepreneurs and innovators about how to set up a commercialization plan. Then we would connect these founders to a broader set of outside resources to help take the company to the next level and make that business plan a reality.
In 20 years, we have progressed from an advisory business nearly entirely dependent on private sources with a little money to invest to an active venture business with $60 million under management, from private and public sources that are in-state and out.
We learned how to vet technologies and business plans and how to identify startup talent and coachable entrepreneurs. We learned how to raise larger and later-stage venture funds and how to attract investment syndication partners from Missouri, Texas, California, Kansas and other states.
We also developed a sense of intuition about whether a given founder and startup have what it takes to succeed. For a business that is loaded with metrics, experience has taught us that considerable judgment and intuition need to be in the mix.
Any time reasonable professionals start something new, as did the founders of i2E, we think we know what we need. But then we get into it and learn that while some of what we initially thought is right, we need less of that and more of something else.
And that’s the thing about an organization like i2E — sometimes we create an inflection point, and sometimes we iterate. At this stage of our experience, what we do not do is duplicate. We don’t take what someone else has already done and do it a little better. Our mission is to identify necessary things that aren’t being done, from services to investment capital mapped to milestones.
In the beginning, i2E was a startup engine designed to help technology-based businesses launch.
Now we are more of an engine for growth, through the seven funds and $60 million of capital under management.
There’s something profound about 20-year cycles. Two decades is long enough to gain perspective, yet short enough to have runway to accelerate.
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.