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February 22, 2007
State tech startups hear upbeat message of potential for success
By Jim Stafford

TULSA — Oklahoma's technology-based economic development community heard pitches from a dozen early-stage companies here Wednesday and an upbeat message about the potential of grow-your-own businesses.

A Technology Ventures Summit audience of about 200 listened as entrepreneurs described the potential of new ventures such as Oklahoma City-based Altheus or Tulsa-based Actioncam, then heard the publisher of Forbes magazine tell them their dreams are not impossible.

"New companies can be grown organically here,” Rich Karlgaard said. "The mistake that economic development people make is to rely too heavily on recruiting a distant company such as a distribution center. That's not bad, but it's not organic and it doesn't perpetuate. Those aren't entrepreneurial jobs.”

Speaking directly to the Oklahoma entrepreneurs laboring to commercialize new technology, Karlgaard said "indigenous entrepreneurship” will yield a big company for the state.

He cited examples of an aircraft company in Minnesota and software companies in North Dakota and Montana as examples of what can happen.

For decades, Oklahoma and other "Heartland” states operated at a disadvantage to cities on both coasts that boasted big clusters of industry — California's Silicon Valley, for example.

Now, the economic winds are blowing in a favorable direction for Oklahoma, he said. The massive gap in housing costs has widened, making the cost of living in the Midwest far more favorable than along the coasts.

"Another gap has gone the other way,” Karlgaard said. "The information gap has grown from wide to nothing. The Internet has really leveled the playing field.”

Sitting in the audience was Robert Chognard, founder and chief executive officer of Stillwater-based CIE Institute, who moved his company from California to Oklahoma last year.

"I'm not disputing that a bit,” Chognard said. "It's a very, very exciting time to be here.”

After Karlgaard's luncheon address, the Summit audience heard a panel discussion on challenges facing university and foundation officials in moving technology out of the laboratory and into commercialization.

Panel members were Gavin Manes, a research assistant professor at the University of Tulsa, Steven Price, director of intellectual property management at Oklahoma State University; Anil Gollahalli, interim vice president for Technology Development at the University of Oklahoma; Larry Kennedy, vice president of Technology Transfer at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation; and Steve Rhines, vice president and general counsel at the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore.

"What do we have to do to grow and diversify Oklahoma's economy?” moderator Michael Carolina, executive director of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, asked the panel.

Top challenges outlined by OSU's Price included sources of money to advance research and new technology, as well as management expertise for startups.


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