By Scott Meacham
Recently, when Elliott Adams, author of The Startup Mixtape: The Guide to Building and Launching a High-Growth Technology Startup signed up for i2E’s Venture Assessment Program (VAP), it was a great opportunity for us to gain perspective from an industry pro.
Elliott’s book is based on his broad experience in entrepreneurship. He was CTO of a highly successful startup through an eight-figure acquisition, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Techstars, and has served multiple years on the advisory board of South by Southwest Interactive. In addition to books and articles, Elliott leads workshops and conference panels, has authored tax policy, and recruited companies to place hundreds of technology jobs in New Orleans after Katrina.
“As a founder it is always important to have a sense of community. There is community in Oklahoma,” Elliott told me. “Founders can feel isolated and in an echo chamber. Getting together with other entrepreneurs, learning about what they are doing, and voicing ideas builds the habit of pitching the company and explaining it to people.”
And what about the VAP content, I asked.
“VAP pushed us to think about who our customer is and what value we are bringing to them,” Elliott said. “If you had asked me if I knew the answer to that before I went to the program, I would have said, yes. But once there, I found out that I didn’t know as much as I thought.”
Elliott Adams is no rookie at market validation. Prior to VAP, he completed considerable industry and market research and talked to many potential customers.
“i2E making me do more in a systematic way was very helpful, ” he said. “I didn’t do a full pivot on my startup, but I developed nuances on the product side and sales approach.”
And then Elliott took our conversation in another direction.
“You know,” he said, “in addition to the market validation focus in VAP, you have a very founder-friendly loan vehicle that is really unique here in Oklahoma—something that this state has been doing for 20 years that is just now starting to happen in Silicon Valley.”
He was talking about the Technology Business Finance Program (TBFP), Oklahoma’s nationally recognized pre-seed capital fund that i2E administers for the Oklahoma Center for Science and Technology.
When our state legislature created TBFP back in 1999 with a $10.7 million appropriation, there wasn’t anything like it. Government and private sector leaders in Oklahoma recognized that entrepreneurs could have all the great ideas in the world, but if they didn’t have pre-seed, proof-of-concept funding, startups couldn’t get off the ground, and they took action. Bold and decisive action.
Since then, TBFP has approved 174 awards, totaling $15.25 million and has funded 145 of those awards to 128 different companies. Awardees have gone on to raise more than $519 million in additional private capital to support their business. Other than a $1 million new appropriation last session, TBFP has been self-funding for the last seven years. This fund is the gold standard for high-growth economic development in early-stage startups and we have been offering it to Oklahoma start-ups for two decades.
The Venture Assessment Program and TBFP work together to provide a structured process of market validation and well-defined access to pre-seed capital. The approach works for seasoned experts like Elliott, for first-timers, and for entrepreneurs who fall anywhere in between.
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