By Scott Meacham
In 1943, when the musical Oklahoma opened on Broadway, our state had only been a state for 36 years.
Oklahoma not only gave us the best state song in the entire country, this play, named for our state, spawned innovation at every turn.
Before Oklahoma, Broadway musicals were a series of big production numbers and novelty acts built around the talent of the stars. Oklahoma introduced an entirely new form. For the first time, every aspect of the play—from the lyrics to the dancing, to the staging and costumes—worked together to move the story along.
Like lots of innovations, Oklahoma was a pivot. The concept came from an unsuccessful play that only ran 62 performances.
Atypically, Oklahoma’s cast was assembled from actors who could sing, not singers who could sort of act. The resulting score was so popular that Decca Records revolutionized the recording industry by producing the first ever original cast album (including the orchestra)—an innovative bundle of 78 RPM records that sold for $5 when singles were selling for fifty cents.
Oklahoma was also the first collaboration for recognized industry greats Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. An untested team, they had trouble raising money. They took the unconventional step of Rodgers writing the music before Hammerstein wrote the score. The play they created set records with a five-year and nine-month Broadway first-run, a Pulitzer Prize, and a $5 million return on an initial investment of $83,000 back in 1943.
Oklahoma, the play, is a unique story—and not the only unique story of innovation and collaboration with an “Oklahoma” stamp.
Working together to drive innovation runs deep in our state. That is how the Oklahoma Innovation Model (OIM) came about. With the Oklahoma Center for Advancement and Technology (OCAST) as its hub, OIM is a strategic initiative and public public-private partnership with i2E, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance (OMA), the New Product Development Center (NPDC) at OSU, and the OK Catalyst programs at the Tom Love Innovation Hub at OU.
“The Oklahoma Innovation Model supports innovation in this state, from concept to commercialization,” said OCAST Executive Director C. Michael Carolina. “the OIM is a catalyst for economic development in rural, regional, and urban economies.
How are we accomplishing that? You could say it is a “book musical” approach. The organizations in the OIM consortium are functionally different and serve different constituencies, but they collaborate to deliver seamless performance.
i2E provides venture advisory services and a continuum of capital to help entrepreneurs assess product-market fit, determine optimal go-to-market-strategies, and to achieve the critical milestones that position startups for funding. OMA works with hundreds of Oklahoma companies on thousands of projects, helping improve the bottom line through best practices, including Six Sigma and Lean Manufacturing.
NPDC offers an array of research, development, and engineering services to inventors, entrepreneurs, and manufacturers. OK Catalyst has increased Oklahoma’s participation in federal SBIR funding to more than $7 million in that last year.
By supporting ground-breaking research through commercialization, OCAST and this consortium have resulted in more than 21,000 new Oklahoma jobs in the last five years and have helped launch or support more than 200 businesses over the past three decades.
Although Oklahoma is relatively small — twenty-eighth in population — the voices of innovation in this state of waving wheat, rushing wind, and beautiful mornings sing together with a very strong voice.
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.