By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017 The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
There have been multiple articles recently in the national press about how the middle of country is gaining attention as a source of promising technology deals. Big-name investors, including Steve Case, billionaire cofounder of America Online, are in the hunt.
Case’s investment firm, Revolution, has covered 8,000 miles in the last three years, searching out quality startups on the premise that high-growth companies can start and scale anywhere, not just in Silicon Valley or the East Coast.
The momentum is in Oklahoma’s favor — if only we stay the course to take advantage of it.
Both Coasts are very expensive in terms of capital, human resources, land and energy. With more than half of all venture capital money spent in the U.S. going to companies in California alone, there’s almost a feeding frenzy in Silicon Valley. Valuations can be through the roof and the competition for talent, from data analysts to data scientists, create average salaries that can run 30 to 40 percent higher than in the Midwest.
This creates a tremendous opportunity for states like Oklahoma. For example, with housing costing about 23 percent lower than average and transportation about 11 percent less, Oklahoma ranks in the top five states when it comes to cost of living.
But as great as a low cost of living is, neither states nor startups can save their way to business success. That’s where Oklahoma can leverage our additional advantages to tip the scales.
Entrepreneurship isn’t something we have recently learned; it’s in our DNA. We are taking that wildcatter attitude to new levels in the business schools of our state’s universities. OU’s graduate and undergraduate entrepreneurship programs are each ranked in the top 15 in the country by Entrepreneur and The Princeton Review. In the last five years, graduates from these two programs have started 59 companies and raised nearly $430 million.
Oklahoma has many of the finest research institutions in the world. They are diverse, from the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, the largest private foundation in the country conducting plant science and agriculture research, to the National Weather Institute at OU, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF), and the Dean McGee Eye Institute.
Long before there was any whisper of interest from outside the state of Oklahoma as the place where great startups are born — in fact in a time when there was great resistance to any entrepreneurship not originating on one of the Coasts — Oklahoma did our own heavy lifting to create non-dilutive and early stage seed capital to leverage the ground-breaking discoveries and inventions coming out of our state.
Is it enough? No. But does it prove the potential of the state. Absolutely. Just look at the 38 science-based companies that call University Research Park home.
A page has turned. We are proving every day that Oklahoma is a great place to start a company. It is encouraging that some of the larger later-stage capital providers nationally are starting to recognize and act on that reality.
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. Contact Meacham at [email protected].