Innovation Hub closes gaps for Oklahoma entrepreneurs

Published: Tuesday, March 26, 2019 By: Jennifer Sharpe Source: The Journal Record

Tony Wheedn, founder of BaseConnect, an Oklahoma company that offers a social networking app for military personnel and their families, attributes much of the company’s success to the Tom Love Innovation Hub at the University of Oklahoma.

Wheedn attended a class taught by I-Hub Executive Director Tom Wavering. The class shed light on how to secure funding from the federal government’s Small Business Innovation Research program. The program has $2.4 billion in available funds nationally.

“The I-Hub really helped me with the SBIR, and Tom personally mentored me and pushed me to apply,” Wheedn said. “What the I-Hub team is doing could seriously impact Oklahoma financially.”

BaseConnect has received funding for a Phase I SBIR grant and was recently selected to receive a Phase II grant.

Wavering said I-Hub’s mission is to increase innovation and entrepreneurship across Oklahoma.

“We do that through a mix of physical resources, like our building, as well as a number of different programs and collaborations that we have with other partners across the state,” Wavering said.

The I-Hub building has labs for fabrication, visualization and coding, as well as flexible collaboration zones, a legal clinic, cafe and fitness center. Activities include workshops, camps, speakers and other engagement opportunities held on-site with remote accessibility or at different locations throughout the state.

“We try to have a holistic approach to innovation and entrepreneurship,” Wavering said. “We want people to generate ideas, start to bring those ideas to reality, and then turn those ideas that were brought to reality into businesses that benefit Oklahoma.”

Success requires access to a variety of resources, including funding, manufacturing, legal assistance and accounting, which are all connections that the I-Hub can facilitate.

“What we have tried to do through our resources, programs and partners is line up all the different steps to make the path as straightforward and simple for Oklahoma innovators and entrepreneurs as possible,” Wavering said.

The I-Hub is home to the OK Catalyst Programs, statewide programs with many partners that provide networking, training and mentoring to entrepreneurs and small business owners. One of the goals of the OK Catalyst Programs is to help Oklahomans understand and access funds from the SBIR program.

“Historically, Oklahoma only brings in about $10 million of the $2.4 billion, so we have some room for improvement,” Wavering said. “Over the past year, we have helped five Oklahoma startups bring in about $4 million in funding.”

Two of the main challenges facing entrepreneurs are access to capital and access to social networks, said Erika Lukas, co-founder of StitchCrew, which runs an accelerator program in partnership with the

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