There are three levers to creating an innovation economy: entrepreneurs, deal flow and capital.
Any state that is serious about sustaining the level of startup activity that creates higher-paying jobs and wealth will wisely focus on all three.
But make no mistake. This is not a question of chicken and egg. The game of wealth and job creation always begins with the entrepreneur.
That's why it is so important to plant the entrepreneurial bug early in young Oklahomans' ears.
One way we accomplish this is through the i2E Fellows Program, which offers two types of paid 10-week fellowships to undergraduate and graduate level/MBA students. Fellows work either directly for an advanced technology startup company or with i2E's staff assisting Oklahoma startups.
We've had more than 50 applications each of the past two years from students with diverse cultural and academic backgrounds. We accept 10 to 12 students over the course of a year.
Companies tell us what they need — whether it's someone who can do market research, a student with a flair for Web development or social media, or a person with in-depth science or technical knowledge. We prescreen, interview and provide three candidates per company. The companies and i2E share equally the cost of the fellows' pay.
Julian McPeak, a University of Oklahoma master's student in journalism and mass communications with an undergraduate degree in equine management, started her fellowship this week. She's had previous internships in brand management/development and marketing. This summer, she'll work with Sigma Blood Systems in Oklahoma City.
“I didn't know much about incubators or startup companies before. This is going to open up a whole new field for me,” McPeak said.
“One of the questions they asked me during my interviews,” McPeak said, “was if being an entrepreneur interested me. I was surprised to recognize that I have much more of an entrepreneurial mindset than I realized. I started horseback riding lessons at 3. I bought my first horse with baby-sitting money and paid for board, shoes and vet bills by working at a riding stable. Taking my background in horses and my new background in communications, I'd love to start a PR firm that is equine specific. I know there is a real need in the industry.”
McPeak isn't our first i2E Fellow who felt the entrepreneurial spark. We are confident she won't be the last.
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.
DID YOU KNOW?
According to Internship.com, 36 percent more companies offered internships in 2012 than in 2011. Two-thirds of employers surveyed believe interview performance and relevant work experience are the most important factors in hiring decisions.