By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
When I served as state treasurer, I learned first-hand that the more individuals and institutions feel ownership in growing Oklahoma’s economy, the better our state’s economic results will be.
Now that I’ve been working in the innovation economy for several years, I’ve relearned that same lesson. For a state like Oklahoma to diversify to an innovation economy, everyone has to buy in and do their part. And there is a part for almost everyone.
It is remarkable just how far-reaching the opportunities presented by innovation can be — especially in a state like ours with such entrepreneurial roots. From the Land Run of 1889 until today, entrepreneurship is in Oklahoma’s character and in Oklahoma’s drive.
Back in 1889, the 50,000-plus people who poured into Oklahoma included impoverished farmers and people displaced by the Civil War, tradespeople and teachers, politicians and preachers. They came on fast horses, covered wagons, and trains. They came to build new lives and businesses, a new state and new wealth.
Oklahoma’s modern day path of innovation and entrepreneurship left the starting line when the legislature established the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) more than 20 years ago.
Today, as the hub of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model, OCAST is the state’s primary source of research and development funding, of pre-seed, proof-of-concept funding (through the TBFP fund managed by i2E), and of entrepreneurial services and later stage capital also managed through i2E.
It takes deal flow to bring this investment alive. Deal flow is the lifeblood of any innovation economy; that’s where the aperture of innovation really opens up. Deal flow comes from great ideas and invention, and those can come from anywhere — from Oklahoma’s amazing research institutions to the back of a napkin in a coffee shop.
Commercial applications and the knowledge shared from the inventions and technologies discovered in our state’s universities can be deal-flow drivers for the state. However, transferring that knowledge and intellectual property beyond the university environment to entrepreneurs who can start and grow successful new companies is complex and challenging.
Universities do a really good job of training and educating. They turn out sharp graduates with the foundation of knowledge needed to go out into the world and be successful.
But universities are less effective when it comes to taking on the risk of commercialization. Sometimes it can be more about publishing articles about breakthrough technology than about turning that technology into a problem-solving product that people will buy. It can be complicated to spinout intellectual property. Many researchers are not wired to become entrepreneurs.
Oklahoma’s research universities are one of the most powerful assets in our state’s cadre of innovation stakeholders; higher rates of academic entrepreneurship can have incredible impact on deal flow and new company creation here. Oklahoma has the foundation and support structure to boost the deal flow coming out of our universities.
We just need more spinouts from our universities to put on a fast horse.
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 [email protected].