By Scott Meacham
Since its creation in the late 1990s, i2E has had an exponential impact upon the state’s startup economy.
Which came first, the chicken or the egg? This philosophical trope has been used from ancient times on down as a frame to debate cause and effect.
In high tech entrepreneurship and venture capital, our chickens and eggs are capital and entrepreneurs. No state can have a robust innovation economy without a lively and visible pipeline of both.
In Oklahoma, where our abundant natural resources of oil and gas have been such a historical driver of our economy, our push into the innovation sectors began 15 or more years later than the states on either Coast.
Think back to the mid-to-late ‘90s, when the Oklahoma legislature stood tall with budget and committed to cracking open an innovation economy in our state. Silicon Valley had built the infrastructure and capital (amped up by cashed out entrepreneurs) and was pumping out startups every day. Oklahoma had no venture capital, private or public. There were no support services for advanced technology entrepreneurs.
Oklahoma had amazing research institutions, a strong spirit of entrepreneurship, but neither the capital nor infrastructure that it takes to create the environment where deal flow can develop and seed companies get a start. We were starting from behind “go.”
i2E is now in our 23rd year of operations and client services. Since inception, we have received $49 million in state funding. We have leveraged that into $938 million in private capital while serving more than 740 Oklahoma companies.
That’s an exponential impact on the state’s startup economy.
The $938 million represents a 19X return measuring only private capital attracted by i2E client companies. When you include other gains to Oklahoma, such as jobs created, $85.1 million in grants received, or patents created, the quantitative impact is astounding.
Critical Deal Flow
The aspect of the last 23 years that is harder to measure, but so very, very important is the impact on talent. All the capital in the world doesn’t matter if a state doesn’t have deal flow. There have always been entrepreneurs in Oklahoma — on our Main Streets and in our traditional industries or energy and agriculture.
Over the last 20-plus years, we have helped channel talent to build a community of high-technology entrepreneurs. In addition to those 740-plus advanced technology businesses that i2E has served, there are hundreds more ideas that didn’t work — but that’s OK. That’s what it takes to build out an innovation economy.
Seeing talented entrepreneurs start software or medical device companies in Tulsa and Oklahoma City makes other bright Oklahomans with big ideas believe that they can start companies, too. We have a whole cohort of graduates with degrees in entrepreneurship coming out of Oklahoma’s colleges and universities. Those programs are a response to the interest and opportunity of entrepreneurship as a career path.
There’s another “feathered” analogy here — the goose that laid the golden egg. Those 740 investable companies include Oklahoma’s first “unicorn” Alkami Technologies, which went public with a $4 billion market cap during its $180 million IPO. This is the effect of Oklahoma deal flow that came about because we had early-stage capital and because we provide nexus of support for want-to-be entrepreneurs.
That’s the exponential impact upon the state’s startup economy.
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 i2E_Comments@i2E.org.