In the frenetic world of startup companies, entrepreneurs live with two realities. Speed is of the essence, and the threat of failure is an everyday occurrence.
Speed, because startups have to get to break-even before their money runs out; failure because innovation is always experimental.
But failure isn't always bad news. Failure, if done quickly with little money, can actually contribute to building a longer-term success, provided the company's leaders learn from it.
If an entrepreneur's initial idea is not going to work out as envisioned, the best outcome is to find out fast, before the startup burns through a lot of time and money. This gives the team a chance to reassess their business plan and pivot toward either a different application of their original concept or a different market need.
That's the idea behind i2E's Immersion Program in Tulsa, which is off and running with its second class of entrepreneurs.
Immersion specifically targets entrepreneurs and inventors with very early concepts. They arrive with little more than a vision for a product or service. They may have some minimal working elements, but they have no fully functioning prototype.
Our goal is to determine in 20 weeks whether there is a customer-product fit for their new idea that would be sufficient to build a business around and be attractive to investors.
Instead of focusing on the technology first, we concentrate on figuring out a defined market need or problem by an identified set of prospective customers.
Through focus groups, surveys, and customer inquiries, we make sure that the companies in the Immersion Program understand whether there is a true sustainable product-market fit.
To serve as the catalyst, we provide $38,000 to support development of a minimally viable product to test the various hypothesized customer benefits. We then deploy that product into a test market. If the product hits the mark, wonderful. If it's a miss, then we help the entrepreneur pivot, retrench and better align the product or service to a solution that the market will buy.
The surprising thing has been just how much these entrepreneurs have been able to leverage this small capital infusion with large amounts of sweat equity.
Imagine the economic impact if by providing focus, structure, best practices and $38,000, we are able to produce a new high-growth company that can be funded in Tulsa every 20 weeks.
We are now expanding this valuable program across other areas of the state to help grow new companies statewide.
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?
In the U.S., the percentage of entrepreneurs who fear failure remains below the average among the world's 24 innovation driven economies.