Scott Lowe graduated from the University of Oklahoma knowing that he wanted to be an entrepreneur, but he didn't yet have an idea for a business. And even if he had imagined a concept or had a product in mind, he says he isn't sure he would have known how to start.
Scott is the type of graduate who is in demand. He studied engineering physics. He loves technology. He was a leader in OU's Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth. The center pairs students with private sector mentors and university researchers to work toward commercializing early stage university technologies.
Instead of going into the corporate world or graduate school, Scott took a different path.
Now a second-year fellow with Venture for America (ventureforamerica.org), Scott is part of a network of young, talented graduates who are embedded in promising startups in “nondestination” cities, such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. He's working at Chalkfly, an e-commerce business that sells school and office supplies online, donating 5 percent of every sale back to teachers.
The bulk of Scott's day is spent on product development. His role is extending the functionality of the system.
“It's awesome,” he said. “VFA (Venture for America) probably isn't right for everyone. If you have an idea for a company and the technology lined up, then go for it. But if you feel there is more to learn before you start your first company, then I'm confident that VFA is the best thing for a graduate who wants to be an entrepreneur to do right after school.”
Barry Conrad, a finance major and OU/Center for Creation of Economic Wealth graduate, watched his friends and colleagues take more traditional jobs in oil and gas or move to the East Coast to go into banking and consulting.
While those jobs paid a lot (Venture for America interns earn around $35,000 per year) and often involved travel to cool cities, Barry said he didn't want to be a cog in a wheel, in a role that was replaceable. He was attracted to Venture for America's message of working for a small company, building something and creating value and jobs.
“It was love at first sight,” he said.
So, right out of OU, he went into Venture for America's five-week boot camp at Brown University. From there he traveled to downtown Las Vegas where he is teamed with more than a dozen Venture for America fellows to create an entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.
It is great to see programs that spark the fires of entrepreneurship in our colleges and universities. Venture for America is one way to keep that momentum going. We need to look for more.
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?
Companies that were less than one year old, with one to four employees, have created on average more than 1 million jobs per year over the past three decades.