By Scott Meacham
In building a startup pipeline, keep it simple.
Occam’s razor (also known as the law of parsimony) is a principle attributed to William of Ockham, a Franciscan friar and philosopher born around 1288. William did not originate the problem-solving model named for him; however, he practiced it relentlessly. Plus he was a colorful character.
From the time he was a student, William was an outspoken creative thinker who was eventually challenged as a heretic. As if that wasn’t enough, he denounced the pope, who, in return, excommunicated him. William was popular with other Franciscans, and with some of them, he headed off to Pisa and then eventually to Munich where he settled into a Franciscan convent, studying and theorizing, especially about mathematics with a commitment to Aristotle, for the rest of his days.
William said that “entities are not to be multiplied without necessity.”
In today’s vernacular, he might say, “keep it simple.” Put into practice for problem-solving, the principle of Occam’s razor directs us that when two competing theories make the same predictions, the simpler theory—the one with the fewest variables and unknowns—is better.
Another way to say that is that you have more than one equally likely solutions to a problem, choose the simplest.
That brings me to the Oklahoma Innovation Model (OIM) created by the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) and the recent funding for accelerators outlined by Governor Stitt in his state of the state message and funded by the legislature. The Oklahoma Innovation Model has a proven track record of fostering innovation and then helping to bring that innovation to market. The Governor’s accelerator proposal along with the recommendations set forth in the 2021-2016 Science and Innovation Strategic Plan look to build upon the OIM and take it to the “next level” of success.
How does this happen? First, these proposals seek to expand the innovation infrastructure in this state—especially when it comes to research and development. As anyone in the oil and gas business knows, a pipeline is not much use if you do not have anything to put in it. If we are being honest with ourselves, we should admit that although Oklahoma has had some truly outstanding innovation and innovators over the years, there just has not been a consistent pipeline of high quality, ongoing innovation.
Second, the addition of nationally recognized accelerators will accomplish two goals: helping increase the success rate of Oklahoma innovation and pulling in quality innovation from outside the state. Building innovation infrastructure takes time (and money). However, Oklahoma has a lot to offer innovators from other states. Just ask Tailwind, Exaptive, Happily, or a host of other entrepreneurs who decided to relocate their startups to Oklahoma.
While we build out our long-term innovation pipeline, it makes sense to try to attract innovators from out of state to Oklahoma.
The “razor” element of Occam’s razor is a shout-out to “paring down.” The governor and legislature’s vision targets strategic industries and opportunities for large-scale, focused investments and partnerships. It’s a roadmap to innovation in traditional Oklahoma mainstays like aerospace, energy, and agriculture, as well as segments newer for our state, including software, medical devices, and startups IPOs in biotechnology.
That’s the mantra. In building a startup pipeline keep it simple.
Spinout technologies are the lifeblood of an innovation economy. We see this first-hand every day as we work with Oklahoma’s research institutions and technology transfer offices — we have been a partner in technology transfer with OSU and OU for almost two decades.
i2E also operates the Ascend BioVentures accelerator in partnership with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Presbyterian Health Foundation. Ascend focuses on the acceleration of new therapeutics.
We stand ready to further amp up our commercialization services and investment support for these research organizations to bring more Oklahoma university-based technologies to market.
Returning to applying the heuristic of Occam’s razor to the opportunity to accelerate Oklahoma’s innovation economy — simple does not mean not-complex. Spareness does not mean cut-to-the bone. We do not need to start from scratch.
Oklahoma has world-class research institutions. Our expertise is recognized and respected by federal agencies, including Department of Defense (DoD) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAH). We have a proven, ready-made framework for innovation with the OIM. i2E has decades experience working with 740 companies receiving commercialization assistance.
Why wouldn’t nationally prominent acceleration programs want to come here? Simply put, together, let’s sharpen our focus and shape our plans. Together, we can simplify the complex and achieve more. In building a startup pipeline, keep it simple.
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.