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Start Ups Get a Leg Up

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Start Ups Get a Leg Up

Filed by KOSU News in Feature, Local News.
May 9, 2012

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Building companies and creating jobs that use new technologies is easier said than done. That’s why Oklahoma has a state agency devoted to making jobs through technology.  KOSU’s Quinton Chandler has more.

“…If I’m president of the United States, I’ll worry about your job not my job…”,

“… focus on creating more jobs in Oklahoma.”

“…Where are the jobs?!”

At all levels of government, we hear the same question; where are the jobs and how do we make more? Recently I spoke with a few scientists and business owners who had found their answer.

“People particularly in our subject are healthy but either underemployed or unemployed at almost a 6:1 ratio. We feel because of some soft tissue injury while they’re in their prosthetics at work results in them having to have prolonged down time.”

Dr. Carol Dionne is an Assistant professor at the OU Health Sciences Center. Dionne’s team wants to make prosthetics that are easier to maintain and keep workers out of the hospital. Dr. Dionne told me, OCAST made her work possible and laid a foundation for future research.

“This one particular project is 100% of it. And from the OCAST grant results I springboard into higher levels of funding that provide research dollars here on campus. So it’s very enriching, it’s kind of a catalyst so to speak, OCAST is.”

OCAST, or the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, it’s a state agency that gives public dollars to budding entrepreneurs and Oklahoma companies developing new technology. They want to create growth but they don’t give grants to everyone with an idea.  Executive Director for OCAST, Michael Carolina explains.

“Initially, we look at the scientific merit of it. Is it relevant in today’s science? Does it meet a market need? Will the project create jobs? There’s a very heavy focus on creating jobs, sustaining businesses so that they become very competitive in their market place.”

Short version, OCAST puts its money on the horse most likely to win and so far, their bets seem to have paid off.

“For every one dollar that the state puts into OCAST we get a return, a return on investment of twenty dollars.”

Dr. Lena Flood is hard at work on one of those horses; she’s a research scientist for ICX Nomadics, an Oklahoma company that focuses on research and development.

“We are developing a specialized instrument testing for micro-toxins that are found in wheat specifically grains for that reason we are trying to specialize one of our instruments for food safety testing.”

It’s not a new idea, she says, similar tools are used in colleges, universities, and in medicine. But it’s not as common in food safety. In the next several years, Flood’s group hopes to have a marketable product that sets a new standard in food safety.

“Some of the testing that is currently used are not optimal they could be improved upon. We want to produce an alternative for testing for these particular types of micro-toxins. It’s important to test for them because some of them are carcinogens; some of them cause food poisoning.”

Another OCAST client is Token X. Dr. Jerry Dawkins and Alex Pelzod founded the company.

“OCAST provided matching funds into the organization and then we also leveraged OCAST’s partner I2E, Innovation to Enterprise. I2E supported us defining the business plan, putting us into contact with angel investors.”

I2E is a private non-profit company that helps close to thirty startups each year with the difficulties of launching their businesses. OCAST’s focus is on the technology behind a project, so they often refer clients to I2E when they need help on the business end.

“We manage several investment funds, the seed fund for example that money comes from OCAST we also manage funds that have federal dollars and we manage a large angel investment group, wealthy individuals who invest their own money in startup companies.”

Recently the partners have added a little more sugar to the pot; they help their clients make a run at even more funding from the federal government.

“The National Institute of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, they all have allocations to fund small businesses who are working on certain innovations that relate back to whatever that agency’s needs are.”

Oklahoma businesses haven’t been very successful in attracting these federal grants which is why OCAST and I2E stepped in. Grant applications have been filed but until an answer comes from the hill, all anyone can do is wait and keep their fingers crossed. Science may not take the limelight in Oklahoma but its entrepreneurs and researchers are trying to make their own leaps in technology.

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