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Oklahoma bio startups grow with Texas venture capital fund Emergent

Texas native Tommy Harlan met resistance from Oklahomans in 1998 when he put together a venture capital fund and began investing in life science startups spun out of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
By Jim Stafford, For The Oklahoman Published: June 27, 2014
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There were some natural concerns among Oklahomans back in 1998 when Texas native Tommy Harlan put together a venture capital fund and began investing in life science startups spun out of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

“We had some early pushback,” Harlan said of the resistance to the investments that Austin, Texas-based Emergent Technologies made in the Oklahoma startups. “Stakeholders who live and reside in Oklahoma aren’t going to welcome with open arms a Texan because of the Red River Rivalry.”

Harlan heard it all. There were fears that Emergent would license the technologies from OU and build the companies and create jobs south of the Red River. There were fears that it would encourage the OU scientists who created the intellectual property to relocate, as well.

None of that happened.

Emergent and its management team have built eight Oklahoma companies based on technologies developed by Paul DeAngelis and William Hildebrand, both Ph.D. scientists and professors at the OU Health Sciences Center.

“As a matter of fact, we have debunked that myth because we have created a lot of jobs in Oklahoma, we haven’t taken the technologies out of state, we haven’t recruited the scientists out of the university,” Harlan said. “It’s really the opposite.”

Harlan describes Emergent as an “affinity fund” where many of the investors are OU alumni.

“There are eight scientists in Paul’s labs who could be in other states, but are here because we created the opportunity to keep them,” he said. “So we’ve kept our promises to Oklahoma stakeholders.”

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