By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2016, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
As 2016 draws to a close, entrepreneurs and early stage investors in Oklahoma are ending the year with big smiles.
In the past few weeks, the exits of Selexys and WeGoLook have been strong validations that in this state we do have the talent, capital and startup know-how to create industry disruptive business from scratch, invest in them and then harvest those investments with exits that yield jobs, wealth and inspiration for entrepreneurs and early stage investors both.
Success like this takes time to build. Oklahoma’s model goes back nearly 30 years to the visionaries in our state Legislature that championed and formed the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) to create a unique agency focused exclusively on technology-based economic development.
That vision has evolved into a four-cornered alliance of OCAST, i2E, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance (OMA) and the New Product Development Center (NPDC). Together, and individually, we and the institutions, inventors, entrepreneurs and investors that we work with have accumulated a lot of experience.
The natural outcome is that we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t for startups here in Oklahoma. Add that to all the other advice that’s out there for startups — from vo-tech schools to research universities, there are programs for startups and entrepreneurs; Google “advice for entrepreneurs” and in half a second, you’ll get more than 91 million hits — making it not surprising that things can get a little foggy for entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out who the heck can help them on their path.
There is an inherent assumption, that if advice comes from an experienced and reputable source — the advice is “right.” Maybe, but maybe not.
There are lots of cheerleaders out there — well-intended people who want to encourage entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs need encouragement, but what they need more are advisers who challenge their assumptions. People who will poke holes in their deals and business plans.
Selexys and WeGoLook ended up being the successful companies that they are because they invited contrarian opinions.
Scott Rollins at Selexys was building his second successful biotechnology business. Robin Smith at WeGoLook was on her first scalable IT company — two different industries and two very different levels of experience.
Neither of these entrepreneurs wanted people telling them that they were brilliant or right — although they are so good at what they do, they were right much of the time.
Instead, they bounced ideas off others, including other entrepreneurs, investors and i2E. They asked us to apply our experience to help identify where the weak spots might be. They listened. When it was fitting for their companies, they pivoted. They held to their vision and made their business plans even stronger.
Look what happened. Two of the biggest exits Oklahoma has ever seen. Now that’s something to cheer about.
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].
DID YOU KNOW? If at first you don’t succeed … Founders of a previously successful business have a 30 percent chance of success in their next venture versus an 18 percent chance of success for first-time entrepreneurs. Source: Inc.