By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Kenneth Knoll, chief operating officer at WeGoLook, has been on i2E’s radar since he was a student at the University of Tulsa and led a team that earned first place in the Governor’s Cup (now the Entrepreneur’s Cup) collegiate business plan competition.
Knoll’s story shares many of the same themes that we at i2E often hear from young entrepreneurs. He didn’t grow up with the high-growth entrepreneurial bug; he’s quick to say that he never set out to create the next Google or Microsoft.
“From my early days, I did like to tinker, learn how things worked, and was always trying to figure out how to turn a buck,” Knoll said.
He was still in high school when paintball became popular.
“We lived in the country, so we built a big paintball field,” he said. “I connected with a distributor to sell equipment, so every weekend I was out there charging for that and the air and the paintballs … the razor-razorblade model.”
Next Knoll and a friend banded together, invested in equipment, and started a DJ service.
“I bought my partner out after high school,” he said, “expanded into audio/video services, and took it to five crews across Oklahoma and Kansas. That’s how I paid for college.”
A class in entrepreneurship taught by Tom Walker, i2E’s former CEO and adjunct professor at TU, led Knoll to the Governor’s Cup. “i2E connected us with technology from a scientist at the OU Health Sciences Center around which we developed our business plan. We poured ourselves into it,” he said.
Knoll and his teammates wanted to use the $20,000+ prize from the Governor’s Cup to take the business forward, but licensing the technology was too steep a step.
“We knew nothing about bio-tech and let that fade away but later pursued mobile technology business for oil well tracking,” he said. “We didn’t get past proof of concept, but we didn’t lose much money and learned a heap about building and validating a mobile technology business.”
Knoll joined ConocoPhillips, setting out to learn business operations from one of the world’s outstanding corporations. For three years, he hit every continent except Antarctica auditing all types of business units — from warehouses in deserts to financial offices in the largest business districts in the world.
Upon returning to Oklahoma, Knoll became manager of concept investments at i2E, then director of advisory services and, after four years with us, he joined WeGoLook.
It’s a path we celebrate.
Oklahoma is full of bright young people who like to tinker and are figuring out ways to make a buck to pay for college and more. At i2E, it’s a special part of our mission to fan the entrepreneurial spirit of these self-starters, support their entrepreneurial interests and careers and to then connect them with inspiring young businesses like WeGoLook.
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 [email protected].