Bright Ideas

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In 1997, a light bulb clicked on at the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology: The idea for a private, nonprofit company whose sole aim would be to help Oklahoma researchers, innovators and businesses access the resources and strategies needed to transform their technologies into high-growth businesses. Fifteen years later, that company – i2E, or Innovation to Enterprise – has spelled triumph for the state’s entrepreneurs and economy, nurturing a revolutionary environment for Oklahoma’s technological research and development sectors.

i2E has become renowned for skillfully guiding hundreds of Oklahoma innovators along the journey from creative inception to financial success. According to Wayne Embree, vice president of entrepreneur services, the company’s ultimate goal is “to advise and invest in great ideas and turn them into wealth-creating enterprises anchored in Oklahoma.”

Projects chosen for i2E’s tutelage typically come from direct referrals issued by such sources as other entrepreneurs, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, the Department of Commerce, OCAST or the state’s universities. Innovators must come prepared with the qualities i2E values most.

“i2E works with entrepreneurs to focus on one single principle: to build a great company,” Embree says. “That means a desire for continuous improvement, accountability and transparency at all levels within an organization. Those entrepreneurs who embrace this will not only improve the likelihood that they’ll succeed, but that they’ll also build a valuable and sustainable enterprise in the process.”

“i2E’s business requires hard work, disciplined diversification and long-term patience,” cautions David Thomison, i2E’s vice president of investments.

Since opening its doors in 1998, i2E has provided services to more than 500 companies and entrepreneurs. In turn, those assisted have launched more than 400 new products, ranging from drugs to treat aggressive brain cancer to software that will automate all aspects of beverage machines for businesses. According to i2E’s 2012 survey, these companies pay an average salary of more than $70,000 in comparison to the average Oklahoma wage of $37,246.

“i2E has invested over $23 million into 140 of these companies, which has leveraged over $650 million in additional private capital and grants to develop the products and grow the companies,” Embree says. “The roughly 100 companies responding to our most recent survey reported $92 million in 2011 revenues. It’s important to note that 80 percent of those revenues came from sales outside of Oklahoma, meaning significant wealth was imported into the state.”

And it’s not just money that’s pouring in. i2E also is putting Oklahoma on the map for research and development – areas in which the state has lagged far behind the rest of the nation. But Oklahoma’s future is looking brighter, says Thomison.

“The outlook for growth in research and development in Oklahoma is positive,” he says. “Oklahoma has a solid and growing base of world-class researchers, and over the last few years, numerous new research-focused facilities have either been built and/or expanded.” 

 Embree also is optimistic about Oklahoma’s research and development potential. “i2E is working with the University of Oklahoma’s and Oklahoma State University’s technology development offices to better identify commercially viable technologies and move those concepts faster toward the market,” he says. “There is great support at both institutions for this approach and given the state’s research base, there is definitely the opportunity to increase the number of startups generated from the research enterprise.”

 One client who can testify to i2E’s dedication and vision is Dr. Robert Perry, president of Innovative Solutions by RJP L.L.C., and creator of such inventions as the EZ Vein, a device designed to help medical professionals improve intravenous catheterization in times of crisis. The device recently was approved by the Food and Drug Administration and is being field-tested by Oklahoma physicians.

 “i2E has been a huge resource to me in every stage of business development,” Perry says. “They were instrumental in not just helping me to identify the initial hurdles but also the unforeseen issues that would arise and how to mitigate those issues. They were always able to help put me in contact with necessary resources that I would need to design or build my different devices and also avenues to access the necessary capital needed to build and market the devices.

“i2E is a vital resource to Oklahoma’s innovators and entrepreneurs,” Perry continues. “Their contributions cannot be measured merely by business revenue that has been generated as a result of their involvement. They provide an environment that fosters and encourages innovation unlike any other resource currently available. With i2E guiding Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs, the state’s future is in very good hands.”

i2E Entrepreneurial Development

i2E has a number of initiatives designed to strengthen talent and enhance skill sets, developing more serial entrepreneurs.

* The Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup Collegiate Business Plan Competition is an annual collegiate business plan competition funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation and sponsors throughout the state of Oklahoma. The Governor’s Cup is designed to encourage students of Oklahoma universities and colleges to act upon their ideas and talents in order to produce tomorrow’s businesses. Students involved in the competition gain access to networks of successful entrepreneurs, lenders and investors, plus gain team-building opportunities, business planning skills, and media exposure.

* The Office of Entrepreneurial Development is a joint initiative between i2E Inc. and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce to provide resources and assistance for entrepreneurs in high growth sectors. The new office works closely with i2E’s entrepreneurial development efforts such as the?Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup collegiate business plan competition, along with initiatives to develop further support services for entrepreneurs.

* The i2E Fellows program was established in 2008 as a statewide fellowship program that matches advanced undergraduates and graduate/MBA level candidates with i2E as business or investment fellow or with our client companies who have pre-defined business-based projects critical to the growth of the company. The fellowship provides students’ exposure to existing start-up companies and helps build a long-term pipeline of entrepreneurs.

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