Mark Lauinger, I2E | Tulsa COG2019
Thank you, Clint and Chuck. It’s good to see everybody out here today. As a Tulsan —and a native Tulsan, a longtime Tulsan, it’s very exciting to see the energy and the excitement around initiatives like this. During my time at i2E, we’ve seen momentum at different stages of the ecosystem, but really seeing things like this all come together, for someone like myself is really, really exciting and for us at i2E.
So, when we think about this event, and this initiative — really from my perspective, and from our perspective it at i2E —there’s really two or three things that I think draw it together. And one of those is really at the centerpiece and that is technology commercialization. And that’s something that we do each and every day at i2E and a have done and really believe that that’s so important, because the incubation of these opportunities and ideas—whether it comes from private sector, whether it comes from academia or elsewhere—those are where our companies and our opportunities and our investments are really born and generated from. So, this initiative and these efforts that we’re celebrating here today and launching today, I think really are geared towards furthering the technology commercialization focus. And that allows us to do pretty exciting things. Devon [Laney, 36 Degrees North]and others have used the word “collaboration,” which is really key. It’s interesting that I don’t think many of you if any of the speakers that you’ve heard from today really collaborated on their slides, but I think you’ll hear common themes and I think that’s a really good thing. So, Kinnee Tilly, who’s a longtime economic development person in Tulsa, now at the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, when I started i2E about nine years ago, she said, “Mark, you know, one of the best things you can do with your partners is collaboration and communication.” I’ve always taken that as really something to focus on because it’s true. If we can communicate, collaborate and work together, then really the sky’s the limit on these.
I do think efforts like this are really the catalyst for the entrepreneurial growth. And those are the things that are happening today everywhere across the state of Oklahoma and certainly within Tulsa. So, I want to talk just a little bit. i2E is really, these days is a venture capital firm for early-stage startup companies and earlier-stage ventures. So, that’s the lens that we use. And if you think about the sort of investors and funding sources, I mean, everybody has their own perspective and lens and viewpoint. And it’s size and stage and space. And how about is the return and what type of return? And I think that’s important. But I think where they come together, I think are the things that investors want to know. And I think really at the heart of it, there’s a lot of stuff up there (referencing slides), but one of the things that I think is really at the heart of it is (that) there are a lot of great ideas, but there’s few good, great companies. And I think there can be— through our collaboration and through the stakeholders—a lot more great companies that come out of efforts like this. And it really does become part of a team effort — not just with the stakeholders, but with the entrepreneurs. Some of the entrepreneurs that you see around the room today have participated in that and have been leaders in that process. So, I think those are the things — from an investment standpoint is — thinking about how we can execute within those companies, make investments that can really garner jobs and wealth creation and things like that.
I’m not going to go into all the details on this chart (referencing slides) but really what’s important, I think as I look at this is… The funding sources for initiatives and companies that come out of efforts like this, I think are really in those kind of middle boxes. From a capital size from a stage, and really, from a risk standpoint – I mean, make no mistake about it — there’s a lot of risk. Entrepreneurship is risky. But that’s what’s so exciting about it because the rewards are so exciting and the upside is so great. So, those are the barriers that new investors, new stakeholders, are playing in our community and Tulsa and statewide. And from the i2E perspective, and I think for many, that’s really exciting to see more and more players.
I put this slide up not to show what we’ve done, but really to show what is being done. This is really representative of the investment that’s being made by i2E and also others within the state and within the Tulsa area. And it shows the progression and the growth in the investment dollars that are being made in the marketplace. These are fiscal year numbers, our fiscal year ends June 30, so, that’s why you see 2020 fiscal year has started — we’re almost halfway through it. And as you can see, we’re almost at $11 million in capital approved and committed to companies, which is so exciting for us and I think for the entrepreneurs. There are discussions around, “is there enough institutional capital in the state of Oklahoma?” And everybody has a viewpoint. I think our lens on that is, and I many share this is, for good deals — for growth-oriented, scalable deals — absolutely there is. And we participate and a lot of really exciting partners in the room and elsewhere participate in that.
If I think about sort of why that’s true, I think, “Sure, yeah — it’s a maturing market from an entrepreneurial standpoint.” But I think the partner ecosystem continues to expand. So critical. The innovation pockets, as we term it, are growing. And I think what we see today is a new pocket of innovation. We’ve always thought of universities as pockets of innovation and private sector and companies. But there are new pockets and also new co-investors and people who are, are reaching back in the timeline of investable companies to early revenue or pre-revenue. And that’s great for Tulsa entrepreneurs and Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs and that’s why I think you see certain investment dollars increasing.
So, kind of in closing for me, I started to think about sort of what is this gravitational center? And, it’s really kind of obvious. I mean, it’s really a unification behind this common cause and commitment to this innovative landscape. And this didn’t happen overnight. This is something we’ve all been working on for two years, five years, 10 years, 15 years. And we’re just now at a very, very exciting point. And I think it’s collaboration at a city level, a county level, a chamber level, private sector, universities, corporations, entrepreneurs, etc. And everybody’s sort of pulling on the same rope there. And it’s really unselfish pursuit. And that sounds trite, but again, those of us who’ve seen it —people don’t care now about who gets the credit, we just want to get it done. And I think for those who’ve come from outside Tulsa, they’ve commented. The Bloomberg event that we had here in October, I heard that over and over — collaboration and selflessness in terms of the things you’re doing. And that’s really, to me, that’s really important and I think reinforces what we’re doing and what’s being done today.
So, and then lastly, just you know, this is really helping to spur this economic engine. So, thank you for the opportunity to be here. Chuck, and Clint — great job. Really, really exciting start to this afternoon.