By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
In our business “concepts” are those creative flashes of a new idea for a new company. The challenge is figuring out which of those concepts have validity in the marketplace. That’s where proof of concept programs come into play. It’s great when a proof-of-concept initiative proves the concept.
That’s been the case with the Oklahoma Proof of Concept Center, which has been in operation for almost two years under the leadership of Elaine Hamm, Ph.D., Proof of Concept Center director and venture advisor.
The strategy behind the Proof of Concept Center is to help entrepreneurs find the right commercialization path and a scalable and profitable business model.
In short, that means finding out early if there are sufficient customers in a big market who will pay money for the entrepreneur’s new concept.
The center is for small entrepreneurial teams and can include university/research institute technologies and/or startup companies.
While the 12-week long course doesn’t require previous business experience, it does require in-depth preparation and intense participation from the teams.
With 13 teams in three classes done and a fourth wrapping up soon, Proof of Concept Center graduates have received follow-on funding of $1.36 million.
They’ve filed 7 patent applications and conducted 635 industry interviews and connections.
Team mentors included FLIR, National Instruments, Moleculera, Griffin Foods, Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance, True Digital Security, and Tronox, just to name a few. Three teams are in the process of obtaining sponsored research and potential licensing from their industry contacts.
“Not only have we had grants and investments,” Hamm said, “but the program is incredibly helpful to developing future successes because we’ve also had several ‘no gos.’”
And “no gos” can be good, especially when they happen early.
“In the startup world, failure is a badge of honor,” Hamm said.
“Failing fast means that entrepreneurs spend 10 weeks and little or no money, instead of two years and their 401K, learning that an idea isn’t going to work. Some of our best success stories are concepts that didn’t work out.”
That’s because once an entrepreneur learns how to prove or disprove a concept fast, using what was learned, he or she can come back with a next idea, a different application, or a new twist on the technology.
As Hamm describes it, a successful startup has to hit the perfect combination—a good entrepreneur and team with a great technology that hits the marketplace with just the right solution at just the right time.
If Oklahoma wants to hit a lot of home runs, we need effective proof of concept processes.
That’s the beauty of the POCC — the more ideas in, the more startups out.
And that’s a concept we can all get behind.
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? The share of new entrepreneurs who are not coming directly out of unemployment was substantially higher in 2013 (78.2 percent) than at the end of the Great Recession in 2009 (73.8 percent). SOURCE: Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, 1996-2013