Fans of the popular television show “Shark Tank” have seen some hopeful entrepreneurs walk away with lucrative deals and some sulk away after the sharks chewed them into bite-size pieces.
What's the difference between success and failure? Many contenders face the venture capitalists with highly polished presentations, sound business plans, proven sales, and demonstrations that they are a good investment. Others stumble; their pitch weak, their market poorly defined, their numbers that just don't add up.
Last week, we noted that access to resources such as a skilled workforce, local capital and technical support is essential to startup bioscience companies. Entrepreneurs in Oklahoma's thriving bioscience sector have a not-so-secret arsenal to ensure they have every chance at success: a public and private ecosystem of financial and service support that has seen companies such as Oklahoma City's DermaMedics, Mintiva, and Altheus Therapeutics get out of the starting gate on the right foot.
One such support organization, i2E, is unique.
“We work with many startups looking for capital, but we offer more than that. We bring human capital to the table as well,” explains i2E Interim President and CEO Rex Smitherman. “Our capital and services are integrally locked.”
Typically, a startup goes to i2E with an incorporated business, a semblance of a business plan, and a desire to introduce its product into the market. i2E takes that near-blank canvas and works with the owners to validate their market and determine the best entry into the marketplace. This preparation can include prototyping, competitive analysis, pitch development and critique, public relations, and regulatory assistance.
Other organizations lending various kinds of support to budding bioscience companies include the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Blueprint for Business, the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park, VentureSpur, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and, of course, the Oklahoma Bioscience Association.
Currently there is no state-supported venture funding in Oklahoma for technology startups. However, proof of concept, angel and seed funding — available through i2E — and private venture capital funding, are available to qualifying companies.
The Oklahoma Life Sciences Fund (OLSF), based in Tulsa, has been a reliable source of funding for some of the state's most successful bioscience companies. Selexys Pharmaceuticals, Ekips Technologies and Inoveon all received critical early financial assistance from OLSF.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. In Oklahoma, it takes a strong community of public and private partners to help raise a bioscience startup to success. In our next column, we'll look at how OCAST is helping Oklahoma bioscience companies garner elusive federal funding that can make a huge difference to startup success.
Sheri Stickley is president and CEO of the Oklahoma Bioscience Association, www.okbio.org