By Scott Meacham
We have to make sure that Oklahoma innovators know that there are resources and mentoring available to them here.
Twenty-five years ago, Oklahoma did not have a continuum of venture capital serving concept to growth stage companies. Now we do — thanks to assistance from the state acting through OCAST — from the TBFP concept fund for pre-seed capital and early-stage companies to five venture funds, i2E Management Company, Inc. (iMCI) has more than $92 million under management.
Twenty years ago, Oklahomans Dr. Scott Rollins and, Dr. Russell Rother, co-founded Alexion Pharmaceuticals in Connecticut, developing the blockbuster drug Solaris based on OMRF technology because the required capital and infrastructure didn’t exist to commercialize breakthrough discoveries in biopharmaceuticals here. (Alexion was recently sold to AstraZeneca for $39 billion.)
Fifteen years ago, these two entrepreneurs and inventors along with current OMRF Vice President of Research, Rodger McEver, co-founded Selexys, not in New Haven, CT, but right here in Oklahoma because the required capital and infrastructure existed. Five years ago Novartis purchased Selexys in a $665MM exit.
Now Drs. Rollins,, Rother, and McEver have founded a third company in Oklahoma, Tetherex Pharmaceuticals, which is developing therapeutics to treat inflammation and tumors across a broad range of severe diseases as well as single-cycle adenovirus vaccines for multiple infectious diseases.
Five years there were no Oklahoma unicorns. Companies with billion dollar IPOs truly were the stuff of Oklahoma imagination.
Eight months ago, Alkami Technology’s initial public offering (IPO) raised $180 million, selling six million shares of common stock, with a surging market capitalization that exceeded $3 billion — more than triple the definition of a “unicorn” deal.
Unlike other states where 50-year legacies of entrepreneurial infrastructure, deep concentrations of federal and industry research, and billion dollar VC funds create rivers of deal flow and legions of cashed out entrepreneurs, Oklahoma has had to focus more on the much more difficult work of building out concepts and teams to create investable deals.
We have learned how to fill out an entrepreneurial infrastructure with venture development processes that are flexible to manage the ebbs and flows of ideas and concepts that bubble up. We have learned to listen at the very earliest stages to the ideas of individuals with an entrepreneurial mindset. Our e3 initiative evaluates opportunities and addresses the most critical factors for startup success. Oklahoma entrepreneurs know that they can come to e3 to gain advice and direction based on our experience with hundreds of Oklahoma-based startup companies. We help entrepreneurs validate their markets, improve their business plans and reduce risk.
Through the entrepreneurial curricula at University of Oklahoma’s Entrepreneurship Center, School of Entrepreneurship at Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business, as well as at a continuously increasing number of our state’s colleges, Oklahoma has learned how to create more entrepreneurs who recognize the promise of entrepreneurship. Each year more students consider entrepreneurship as a career.
Thanks to the Love’s Entrepreneurs’ Cup, more than 2,400 Oklahoma college students have had the experience of building a real-life business plan and convincing real-life investors and VCs of its merits.
In Oklahoma, we have to intentionally encourage, versus discourage, more people to take a chance on innovation. We have to help aspiring entrepreneurs fill the gaps in talent, gaps in knowledge and gaps in connections. We also are learning the benefits of intentionally reaching out to underestimated founders through ACT Tulsa, the new six-month accelerator program in Tulsa aimed at cultivating underestimated Black and Brown founders in Tulsa and beyond.
Virtually every aspect of building an innovation economy is less predictable in Oklahoma than in Texas or on the Coasts. But that doesn’t mean that we lack extraordinary entrepreneurs with exceptional concepts and scalable, investable ideas and technologies. We just have to make sure they know that there are resources and mentoring available to them here. When it comes to entrepreneurship and innovation, Oklahoma has changed a lot in 20 years thanks to the continued, intentional investment by the state through OCAST — and we have more work ahead.
We just have to make sure that Oklahoma innovators know those resources are here for them.
Scott Meacham 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].