By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
In writing this series of columns, it has been enjoyable and informative to consider current innovation in Oklahoma in the context of innovation and inventors from our history. I like history as a teacher, and from readers’ comments, so do you.
We’re making innovation history today in Oklahoma. In a hundred years when future generations look back, they will draw lessons from the products and solutions we are creating today. We don’t know which of those will have the staying power of Sylvan Goldman’s shopping cart or Carl Magee’s parking meter, but you can bet some bright Oklahoma innovator is making history right now.
The cornerstones of innovation — then, now, and in the future (even with artificial intelligence and machine learning) — are humans with great ideas and the passion and tenacity to act.
But great ideas alone can’t propel innovation. It takes community, learned expertise, and infrastructure for a state to leverage the spirit and creativity that turns innovation into wealth and jobs.
That brings me to the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), the state’s agency for technology development and commercialization.
This organization is Oklahoma’s champion of innovation and the bridge that connects ideas, research, and inventions to business needs. OCAST gets results, as the metrics prove: more than 2,450 jobs created or retained with average wages of $52,866 — a total payroll exceeding $93 million with a total financial impact exceeding half a billion dollars.
OCAST knows how to foster innovation, and they’ve learned what works for Oklahoma. In the Oklahoma Innovation Model (OIM), the framework of coordinated resources and services they have built and adapted over time boosts Oklahoma’s competitiveness in the knowledge economy. OIM is a public-private collaboration that consists of OCAST, two not-for-profit organizations, i2E and the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, and the New Product Development Center at OSU.
“Invention, innovation and entrepreneurship are key drivers to the growth and diversification of Oklahoma’s economy,” said OCAST Executive Director Michael Carolina. “Thanks to the efforts of our strategic partners, such as i2E and its focus on technology commercialization and startup capital, we are seeing substantial innovation and growth in areas that complement our rich energy and agricultural heritage — areas such as aerospace, life sciences and biotechnology, manufacturing and information technology.”
That diversification is key. When OCAST was created 30 years ago, state leaders envisioned innovation in new, nontraditional industries for a state that historically relied almost exclusively on energy and agriculture. Then, 1 in 11 Oklahoma workers was in energy; today, that number is 1 in 27.
Invention and technology are the springboards of innovation; history provides the perspective. The spirit of innovation transcends products and technology.
In 75 years when future generations look back to the innovation landscape of today’s Oklahoma, they will learn lessons from the legacy of our innovation, just as today, we find lessons in the shopping cart and the parking meter.
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 [email protected].org.