By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Last week, speaking at the Oklahoma Venture Forum’s chairman’s luncheon, I caught looks of interest, and perhaps a little surprise, when I told the audience that it is my firm belief that Oklahoma has entered the era of the high-growth entrepreneur.
We have built the infrastructure and the buzz. We have early stage capital. More and more, talented Oklahomans are seeking entrepreneurship as a career. They want to build advanced technology businesses that will scale.
When the students participating in the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup collegiate business plan competition see Monscierge signing up customers all over the world, or Selexys exiting at $665 million and WeGoLook at $42.5 million, they are inspired. They believe that if these Oklahoma startups and entrepreneurs can achieve these things, they can do it, too.
There was a time when we lost our best and brightest to other cities, but things are different now.
We are seeing entrepreneurs move into Oklahoma from other states, places like Boston, Seattle, and New York. Certainly, Oklahoma is a smaller, business-friendly pond with a very competitive cost of living, but when I ask entrepreneurs why they moved here, they say that a top reason is that they feel welcomed and surrounded by individuals, communities, and organizations that want to help them succeed.
I tell those entrepreneurs that i2E will help them succeed. We do that, in part, by helping them find failure fast. Our strategy is to waste as little of their time and money as possible by quickly figuring out what doesn’t work, learning from those mistakes, and iterating to a better plan.
It takes a certain mindset to be a high-growth entrepreneur. They cannot fall in love with their technologies; no matter how wonderful a widget might be, if it doesn’t solve a big problem with readily identified benefits for lots of customers in huge markets, founders must let it go and pivot the business to something else.
Entrepreneurs cannot allow themselves to be fooled into believing that they (or their friends or family) are a proxy for customers. Instead, they must seek real input from real companies in the industries they plan to serve. They must be guided by what they learn, to choose and focus on the “right” path to market.
High-growth entrepreneurs are coachable. They develop a realistic understanding of bootstrapping. It is a great way to get started, but most technology startups will require capital to scale and that requires giving up equity and some control.
As I stood before the Venture Forum audience, another thought hit me. Not only is Oklahoma in the era of the high-growth entrepreneur. We have entered the era of the high-growth company. The people in that room, our state officials, and the many successful corporations here, hold the power to change the destiny of this state.
Let’s seize this opportunity to transform and grow our state!
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.