Oklahoma Innovation Institute kicks off two new programs, graduates Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance
By Casey Smith
Tulsa World, Tulsa, OK © 2016 BH Media Group, Inc.
The past few weeks have been especially busy ones for Oklahoma Innovation Institute, a nonprofit committed to building an innovative economy in the Tulsa region.
The launch period for Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, the institute’s answer to the need for growing STEM programs in the area, has come to an end. As Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance moves on, the institute is turning its incubation efforts to beginning two new initiatives with the goals of increasing the number of commercially viable businesses that enter the marketplace and of helping the fledglings get through the earliest stages of the entrepreneurship process.
“What we do at OII is we try to identify gaps in resources,” Executive Director David Greer said of the nonprofit that officially launched in 2012 with the goal of addressing an array of current and future business issues faced by the Tulsa area. “We don’t want to duplicate — we want to fill identified gaps.”
Tulsa has a great entrepreneurial ecosystem that’s already been developed, Greer said, pointing to programs like 36°North, The Forge and i2E that help small businesses grow. But, Greer said, what Oklahoma Innovation Institute thinks the economy needs more of are services to help great ideas take that first step into the marketplace and get to a point where they can enter one of those entrepreneurial startup programs.
The institute is launching two new programs this summer: a community technology commercialization platform and BetaBlox, the startup accelerator that focuses on entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur training and mentorship.
“Our hope is using this technology commercialization portal system, using this BetaBlox program, we want to widen the funnel of startups in Tulsa, provide more of them to the ecosystem that can be passed through to the right resource at the right time,” Greer said. “This very early stage I think is a gap that we have not addressed in Tulsa. With the work we do at OII, we feel we’re going to fill that gap.”
Chase Curtiss, the institute’s recently hired director of commercialization, will lead the three-year initiative to build a community technology commercialization platform. Curtiss said the goal is to create a network that identifies commercially viable research being done at universities and helps those ideas move through the startup business process. “Usually that’s a pretty big gap from the university to the entrepreneurship level,” Curtiss said.
The new initiative will be complemented by Kansas City-based BetaBlox, a startup accelerator that helps early-stage entrepreneurs quickly build their business through coaching on lean startup models, modern customer acquisition channels and raising investment funds.
In the four years or so that BetaBlox has operated, Greer said, the organization has launched around 100 businesses with an 85 percent success rate — twice the national average.
Oklahoma Innovation Institute wants to create more self-sustaining solutions as it did with the successful launch of the Tulsa Regional STEM Alliance, an organization that works to connect all the entities interested in growing science, technology, engineering and math in the area.
The alliance, which started in 2014 under Oklahoma Innovation Institute’s umbrella, is now in the process of becoming its own entity. The transition will be complete this month.
Xan Black, program director for the alliance, said the group will exist as part of the Tulsa Community College Foundation until it receives its own nonprofit status.
“They did such a great job of incubating us that it was time to spread our wings,” Black said. “We’re really grateful to OII for the opportunity and grateful to TCC for taking us through the transition phase, and we’re looking forward to stepping out on our own.”