By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2013, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Scott Lowe, a native of Muskogee and alumnus of OU’s Center for Creation of Economic Wealth (CCEW), didn’t expect to graduate from OU and be working for a startup in Detroit.
The same is true for Barry Conrad, another Center for Creation of Economic Wealth alum who is helping forge an entrepreneurial ecosystem in downtown Las Vegas.
The center pairs students at OU with private-sector mentors and university researchers in Oklahoma to advance early stage university technologies. So how did these twenty-something entrepreneurs get from Norman to where they are today?
They are in the inaugural class of Venture for America fellows, a nonprofit organization founded to direct young, talented college graduates from top schools toward entrepreneurship.
In concept, Venture for America (ventureforamerica.org) is similar to the successful Teach for America program, only instead of teaching, Venture for America fellows spend two years in the trenches as entrepreneurs working for a promising startup in a “nondestination” city.
The national program is supported by a huge list of A-list technology names — organizations, investors and individuals.
Venture for America seeks the best and the brightest graduates and matches them with startups that aren’t in consulting or finance and are in places other than Silicon Valley, New York or Boston.
The fellows earn entry-level salaries, around $35,000, yet the competition to be selected for Venture for America is fierce, predominantly from graduates of Ivy League and Ivy League-like schools. Not many participants are from state schools, so it raised some eyebrows around the country for OU to join the mix.
Conrad heard about Venture for America from a Twitter feed. Most of the recruiting was on the East Coast, with the closest recruiting event at Tulane.
He bought a ticket to fly to New Orleans but wasn’t able to fly due to weather. He applied anyway, not expecting to have a shot. Instead, both he and Lowe were invited for interviews, and the rest is history.
“Our CCEW (Center for Creation of Economic Wealth) experience made us stand out,” Conrad said. “It was obvious on day one that we had training that people weren’t expecting. It’s very unique for a college to have a program like CCEW. It transformed how I think about my future and what I believe I can do.”
Venture for America has an incredible mentor list and advisory board. Being associated with a national program with those types of resources and that kind of backing and support helps shine a spotlight on Oklahoma as a state where startups and innovation are taking hold.
This year, about 600 people applied for the 2013 fellowships, and less than 15 percent were accepted. One of them was Oliver Li, a third Center for Creation of Economic Wealth alum from OU. That says it all.
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 appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at [email protected].
Did You Know? Since 2006, interns at OU’s Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth provided strategic business assistance to more than 15 Oklahoma technology-based opportunities.
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