By Scott Meacham
This time of year, Christmas music is everywhere. Some people get a little tired of it, but for me it’s all part of the season, and I like it. Christmas music reminds me of family, friends, and memories of Christmas mornings and meals.
The other day, I was on an errand, and “Do You Hear What I Hear” was playing. It’s one of those Christmas songs that can really stick in your head, and that day it stuck in mine. Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see? Do you know what I know?
One of the reasons I write this column each week is to help people who don’t live and breathe the innovation economy every day, to hear, see, and know how committed Oklahoma is to entrepreneurs and their success.
We have been taking steps for decades that other states, including places like California, are just now considering. Oklahoma’s Technology Business Finance Program (TBFP) program is a case in point.
TBFP, the unique, pre-seed capital fund that i2E administers for the Oklahoma Center for Science and Technology (OCAST), provides a lifeline to equity-free capital for startups at such an early stage that there are virtually no other sources of available capital.
“You have a very founder-friendly loan vehicle that is really unique here in Oklahoma,” Elliott Adams, former CTO of a highly successful startup and author of The Startup Mixtape: The Guide to Building and Launching a High-Growth Technology Startup, told me recently.
More bluntly, he asked if people in Oklahoma really recognized just how visionary and powerful TBFP is—that it is “something that this state has been doing for 20 years that is just now starting to happen in Silicon Valley.”
That gave me pause. Do You Know What I Know?
Having funded 145 awards to 128 different companies totaling $12.36 million, the 20 year-old TBFP program has been a lifeline and the path to later stage capital for Oklahoma entrepreneurs. Awardees have gone on to raise over $519 million in additional private capital and have created more than 1,140 new jobs.
With these stats, plus life-saving new therapies and break-through innovation in information technology and other industries, TBFP has set national benchmarks for early stage capital funds. In this area, at least, Oklahoma is already a top ten state.
But there’s more.
TBFP is equity-free capital. The purpose is not to gain a percentage of the entrepreneur’s company in return for capital. No, the purpose of TBFP is to help entrepreneurs build businesses in Oklahoma which it has done repeatedly for the last two decades.
With TBFP, startup founders don’t have to dilute their ownership stake to gain access to vital early stage capital.
Coupled with i2E’s Venture Advisory Services and Venture Assessment Program, TBFP gives founders a runway to concentrate their energy and creativity on validating markets, improving prototypes, and acquiring paying customers—achieving early milestones and de-risking the company while they build connections with angel investors and venture capital networks before the startup needs equity capital.
When this state program, offered through OCAST and i2E, vets a startup and has the confidence to make a TBFP investment, that Oklahoma entrepreneur knows what we know—that we believe in the startup and in the entrepreneur—and that Oklahoma has their backs.
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 i2E_Comments@i2E.org