By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoman
Startup companies are like snowflakes — no two are exactly alike.
Uniqueness, after all, is a vital part of every new company’s secret sauce. The most successful startups always break new ground. They do original things in original ways. They invent new materials (nanoparticles anyone?), new systems (remember when Windows were just glass squares in a wall?), and even new words (how many times have you Googled this week?).
On the other hand, as different as startups are from one to the next, the genome of every successful startup shares common DNA. That DNA is based on the drive to find new solutions to known problems and the willingness to take that solution to real customers in actual markets, knowing that in all likelihood those customers will have more to say about what is wrong with the proposed solution than what is right.
And that’s when the full force of the entrepreneurial DNA kicks in as the innovator twists, tweaks and iterates, shaping the original solution into a winning idea that at least some people in an identified market say they want.
Now things really get tough. What is the competition? There is always, always competition. What is the realistic market, and what is the cost to reach it? Is the price worth the opportunity? Heartbreakingly, many times, despite the greatness of the idea and the enthusiasm of initial customer feedback, the business model just doesn’t work, and it’s time to move on to the next deal.
But sometimes a big enough market nods its approval, costs fall in line and the startup takes off. However, in entrepreneurship, the playing field never levels out. Each milestone — hiring talent, stretching cash, securing funding — leads to an even steeper hill.
In the search for the right talent, not only must new companies attract individuals who embrace the risk and uncertainly of a startup environment and bring the right skills — often of a technical nature that are most in demand — winning founders recognize that they must hire people who are not like themselves — individuals who can fill in gaps in experience and further diversify the startup’s core DNA.
Successful entrepreneurs have an instinct for managing cash and a developed sense of the right time to move from bootstrapping to outside sources of capital. Winning entrepreneurs have a special spark in their DNA. They listen, invite feedback and know when and how to accept help.
Oklahoma has a committed support system, from advisory services to access to capital, that helps entrepreneurs leverage that spark into new companies that produce innovative products and services … and jobs.
Starting a new business is a long trip down a bumpy road. Entrepreneurs who start the journey deserve our admiration and our support.
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].