i2E Provides Guidance, Funding for High Tech

When Oklahoma high-tech entrepreneurs need a kick-start to get their innovations off the ground, they can turn to i2E Inc., for support services and even “pre-seed” funding from state resources.
i2E, a private, not-for-profit corporation, is the program manager for Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center and the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) Technology Business Finance Program.
It is through those programs that i2E is able to provide the “early planning and handholding … and also being able to provide capital, for them (start-up businesses) to achieve a business milestone,” said Tom D. Walker, executive vice president and COO with i2E’s Tulsa office.
i2E, which is eight-years-old this month, is working with companies for its ninth round of funding through TBFP, Walker said. The project allows i2E to provide $1 million of funding in $100,000 increments to Oklahoma-based high-tech startup companies each year. i2E administers the program under contract to OCAST.
Operating out of 4,000 SF at 2 W. Second St., the Tulsa office has been able to aid 21 Tulsa startups with $2.6 million in repayable funds since the program’s start in 1998. Statewide, i2E has been able to help 65 firms with $7.8 million in funding.
In that time, four Tulsa firms have repaid $472,500 and, statewide, 13 firms have repaid over $2 million. Write offs to date total $225,000 for three Tulsa firms and $625,000 for seven firms statewide.
Companies are expected to pay back twice the awards during their first five years in business. The funds are returned to OCAST’s program for reuse, Walker said.
He said i2e begins working with startup firms with ”hands-on support services” through the Oklahoma Technology Commercialization Center.
Through that program, i2E personnel are able to “sit down across the table, roll our sleeves up and become part of the team and see how we can help these companies be successful,” he said.
He said there is a one-time fee of $1,000, which is used to pay for third-party market research, but that there is no charge for “our on-going relationship.”
As i2E begins working with an entrepreneur, Walker said, “We just let them tell us everything they are working on. We are listening for the key elements related to: Is it an advanced technology opportunity because that is what our mission in life is.”
“For us, that means any state-of-the-art material, design, process or know-how,” he said. “It is very broad so we can help as many companies as we can.”
“In that first meeting, we are able to make an assessment about whether a company fits within our mission, and we are also hearing what it is that they need,” he said.
If the company fits the mission, i2E takes it through a commercialization process with structured tools for analyzing a business plan.
“We let the entrepreneur know the things that need to be in that plan for it to be a realistic opportunity, and we help them reach those goals,” Walker said.
“The goal … is that we have structured corporate materials for this company that would be a solid, fundable business plan in a presentation that the entrepreneur can give on that business, what you would call a ‘business pitch,’” for additional venture funds, he said.
As the firms reach specific stages in their business plan, they may be selected to receive pre-seed funds through TBFP, the “proof of concept fund,” Walker said.
“That is the kind of money that it the hardest to get,” he said. “We are taking big risks in these companies, and at the same time we are helping them along the way.”
“The idea is, if they are successful, and we know that a lot of them are going to fail, but they are going to learn from it and come back and do something else,” Walker said. “Those that are successful will be a catalyst for growing other types of capital in those companies.”
“The success has been the leverage on that money,” he said, noting that the firms that have received TBFP funds have in turn received more than $160 million in additional venture capital.
“That’s huge,” he said.



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