By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
At i2E, we like to invest in life sciences companies. About 40 percent of our portfolio is in therapeutics, diagnostics and medical devices. We recognize the abundant opportunity for these types of startups in Oklahoma, and we have developed the staff, expertise and partnerships to commercialize technologies in the sector.
What’s so great about this category of investments? My list is long, but the first and most compelling reason is that startups in life sciences either work or they don’t.
With many early stage companies, investors and entrepreneurs are constantly searching for the right alignment between technology, product and solutions that customers really want. We spend a lot of time and energy trying to figure out and achieve the milestones of a winning path, but the plain truth is that a significant percentage of the time, we end up with a middle-of-the-road outcome where the company doesn’t achieve the results investors and entrepreneurs believed were possible.
It’s different with life sciences. When they work, they help improve people’s lives, often in previously unimaginable ways. And when they don’t work, for example because clinical trials disprove safety or efficacy, life science companies typically don’t linger on.
Success in life sciences can take years, sometimes decades. They require multi-faceted collaborations to move a discovery from lab bench to an approved therapy that changes patient outcomes. A state builds a robust life sciences economy by being very intentional — you don’t just shake the trees to build a pipeline.
As investors in life sciences, we understand and plan for that reality. We have created a concentrated super-specialty that includes on-staff PhDs and a former laboratory manager with expertise in pharmaceutical manufacturing and regulatory matters to identify Oklahoma’s high-potential life science companies and help them navigate the commercialization path.
Our cycle starts with world-class research institutions like the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and the OU Health Sciences Center. With a return of $22 for every dollar invested, OCAST (Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology) is the state’s primary source of funding to advance the research coming out of these institutions as well as others across the state. For the last 10 years, we have managed with the TBFP Concept Fund and the Seed Capital Fund to bridge the gap between the end of research dollars and the point when the larger national players are willing to start writing checks to companies like Selexys and Progentec.
The result? We are funding big deals and launching big technologies. We have relationships with national and international corporations and life science investors who recognize the potential in Oklahoma’s life sciences sector.
We have learned how to anchor promising life science companies in Oklahoma — with our caliber of talented scientists and entrepreneurs, the expertise at our research institutions, the quality of life in Oklahoma and the business-friendliness of our state for people to live and work — so that when startups like Selexys are acquired, jobs stay in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma has the proven experience and infrastructure to be a Top 10 state in life sciences entrepreneurship.
We only need the will and the long-term commitment.
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