Oklahoma’s expanding innovation economy is having a significant and lasting impact on our state.

When I joined i2E more than six years ago, I welcomed this as a unique opportunity to work alongside contributors from private and public sectors to help Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs build companies and create jobs through the realization of their dreams, inventions and hard work.

I wanted to contribute, and I wanted to learn — about innovation, about creating sources of early stage capital and about what it takes to turn an idea into a sustainable advanced technology business.

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I expected that my learning curve would be more incremental. However, when it comes to entrepreneurship and commercializing new technologies, I’ve come to realize that often the learning process is more like stepping on a rake.

Over the next few columns, I will be sharing some of the things I’ve learned during my six-plus years of “ahas” and “oh-nos.” My first aha: Starting a company looks hard, but people who haven’t tried it have no idea how difficult it actually is.

First, there’s the career and financial risk. An entrepreneur must go “all in” on themselves and their business if they want to succeed. They might start out building a business on the side, but eventually, to be successful, he or she must quit that day job to dive into the startup endeavor full-time. Full-time is likely to mean 80 hours a week for months, sometimes years on end. It means giving up paychecks and giving up sleep — missing dinners, vacations, baseball games, your spouse, your kids and any sport you used to enjoy. It means working harder than you ever have in your life.

Successful entrepreneurs must be able to pivot to a new approach when the dream and vision (the feelings and beliefs that caused them to take all that risk in the first place) turn out NOT to be what the market needs at all.

Entrepreneurship means excelling in the business skills you know and then being almost clairvoyant in building a team who can do and teach you things you haven’t ever done and don’t know how to do. It’s owning the quality and culture of your company — the entrepreneur’s name is on every product; every customer relationship is your responsibility. It’s making a hundred investor presentations to raise capital, and then figuring out how to stretch that capital as far as possible.

It’s getting the best advice you can find, and then having the confidence to make your own decisions the best that you can, knowing that those decisions affect the lives and security of your employees, customers, investors and family.

So, if entrepreneurship is so risky and hard, why do so many bright Oklahomans with promising alternatives become entrepreneurs?

Because when they succeed, they create new products that literally change the world — medicines that treat untreatable diseases, battery technology that improves the environment, glasses that help people with macular degeneration see.

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 appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.

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