By Scott Meacham
Oklahoma’s path of innovation is built upon the hereditary DNA of past entrepreneurs.
Of the nearly 3 billion base pairs in the human genome, about 99 percent of them are the same in every human being — however, it is the sequence of these DNA pairs that makes each of us who we are genetically.
It’s like that with entrepreneurial DNA — every state has it. Our country was built by entrepreneurs. It’s just that from state to state, our DNA is “sequenced” differently. In Oklahoma, our entrepreneurial DNA isn’t channeled from one dominant industry — or from a particular type of entrepreneur.
Heroes of Innovation
Our state heroes of innovation have impacted industries across the board — from human flight, to rock and roll. From changing the way that people drive to changing the way the way people exercise. From making it easier to shop to making it easier to park. From digging ditches to accessing the Internet.
Wiley Post, the aviator with the vision of moving people and freight faster over greater distances, envisioned space travel and, in 1934, invented the pressure suit and advanced innovation in airplane design and fuel — forever linking our state to the moon and Mars.
While Wiley Post was pushing the limitations of flight, Oklahoma musician and electric guitar pioneer, Bob Dunn, was doing some soaring of his own. Dunn carved a place in the history of country swing, during a two-day recording session of 30 one-take cuts, making the first recording of music on an electric guitar, which was his self-engineered electric instrument.
Tulsa state patrol officer Clinton Riggs invented a funny-shaped sign with just the word “yield” that without changing laws or the construction of intersections and access ramps, reduced accidents and saved lives. Nautilus inventor Arthur A. Jones built his first exercise machine while living at the Tulsa YMCA.
Grocer Sylvan Goldman created the grocery store shopping cart so that his Oklahoma City customers could buy more on each trip to the grocery store—the icon in the upper corner of your Amazon page is the “icon” of Sylvan’s legacy. Another icon invention, Carl Magee’s parking meter, improved traffic flow and access to parking in Oklahoma City—and in all over 49 states.
The Malzahn family, of Ditch Witch fame, gave the world a whole new way to install underground utilities safely and efficiently — from gas, electric, and plumbing in the 1950s to telecommunications, CATV, and fiber options today.
Edward Roberts in 1974 invented the first personal computer that attracted Paul Allen and Bill Gates, who then wrote Altair BASIC, the first high-level coding language which became the first product of Microsoft, and the foundation upon which Gates and Allen eventually built the largest software company in the world.
It’s in our DNA
DNA was discovered back in 1869 when Swiss biologist Friedrich Miescher found an odd substance in that didn’t match the proteins he expected in his research of white blood cells. It took another 100+ years, extensive Nobel-caliber research, and groundbreaking advances in computer technology and nuclear medicine to gain the understanding we have today of DNA.
Just as human development is built on the hereditary material of DNA, so is Oklahoma’s path of innovation and construction of the entrepreneurial DNA of our state. With pride and determination, we need to continue to build on our amazing history of commercializing great ideas that happen here.
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.