By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2017, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
It’s always exciting to be engaged at the core of Oklahoma’s entrepreneurial community. One of the highlights is hosting the annual Entrepreneurial Summit.
This is the fifth year since i2E inaugurated this event, and it just keeps getting better. The agenda is never blue-sky or self-serving. Our focus is always to feature panelists and speakers with real experience in starting and funding companies — people who have won and lost in the trenches.
This year the agenda featured a cadre of Oklahomans. We had a fantastic “how to” panel discussion with Oklahoma entrepreneurs on creating the right mix of talent at each stage of a venture. Then our own Oklahoma-grown Prerna Gupta, took the podium as our keynote speaker.
Gupta is a serial entrepreneur who has been founding consumer entertainment startups for over a decade. Her most recent venture, Hooked, is an iPhone application that is targeted to teenagers and millennials and reading through engaging story telling via a text message format.
Gupta is a major talent on the national and international startup scene. She grew up in Shawnee; former first lady Kim Henry was her AP history teacher. Gupta’s parents are originally from India.
“People are shocked when I tell them that I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma,” Gupta told me, “but growing up in a small town in Oklahoma was the best that could happen to me. I first learned how to be an entrepreneur growing up in Shawnee because I was different. I had to learn to relate and find common ground. I had to learn to empathize with others, and to believe in myself, against all odds. At the same time, because it was a small town, people take more time to get to know each other, and once people get to know you, they are so accepting.”
Gupta has founded three startups. The first one failed. The second one exited, and her third, Hooked, is getting millions of teenagers to read fiction. More than 30 million young readers have installed Hooked. The app has hit the No. 1 spot in the US App Store twice, has reached No. 1 in 24 countries, and has started a new approach to reading under the moniker chat read.
I asked Gupta what’s she’s learned about starting a company and about upending preconceived assumptions about reading.
“Everyone looks at Silicon Valley as this magical place, but I didn’t come from there,” she said. “It’s not about a place; it’s a mindset that can happen and take root anywhere. There is this growing sense that an entrepreneur can create a successful startup from anywhere. I was blown away by the talent and openness I saw at the conference in Oklahoma.”
That’s the way I felt at the Summit, and it’s the way I feel working with Oklahoma startups every day. When it comes to entrepreneurship, we have the talent, the infrastructure, and the track record of successful exits that’s putting our state on the map.
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].