A new center at OU-Tulsa is a catalyst for business ideas.
ICEdot CEO Chris Zenthoefer and Caroline Trump with the company’s helmet sensors. Trump headed the team of students that worked with the company through the University of Oklahoma Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth.
The University of Oklahoma’s Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth is designed to bolster the state’s economy both immediately and into the future.
The center, or CCEW, has two goals, says its executive director, Jeff Moore. First is to be a catalyst for economic development by cultivating ideas, products or services for new or existing enterprises. It also aims to train students to start or build business ventures.
The CCEW has operated in Norman since 2006 and expanded to OU-Tulsa in 2011. In its first year, it trained 10 student interns from four colleges and six majors, says Taylor Potter, the Tulsa program manager.
It now is adding an Innovation and Sustainability Institute to support and foster innovative ideas from OU-Tulsa faculty and The Mine, which trains 10 Tulsa young professionals in social innovation and community projects.
Potter went through CCEW as a student and worked after graduation for ConocoPhillips before returning to open the Tulsa operation.
“It was a perfect opportunity for me to come back and get involved,” she says.
The programs blend backgrounds and talents and encourage entrepreneurship. CCEW projects can develop from OU faculty members or researchers who have a patent or idea they want to market, from local businesses who want to grow or expand into new areas or create products, or from students who have ideas they would like to explore.
Student team members are selected from applicants — 75-80 each semester for 12 openings in Norman and four in Tulsa. Team members are “the best of the best from across all majors and departments,” Moore says. The teams are assigned to real technology and entrepreneurial projects.
CCEW has produced about $7 million for various startups while students have gone on to become Rhodes scholars or move into the top business, law and medical schools in the country. Some also have remained involved with business projects in Oklahoma, Moore says.
CCEW interns can come from any background, from business to social science to engineering and technology. Interns are expected to spend at least 15 hours a week on their projects, working with government officials, business leaders and non-governmental organizations to get real experience in learning to develop businesses.
Tulsa’s first major and successful project involved MyHealth, an electronic network to facilitate exchange of health-related information among various entities with a goal of improving health care in the state.
Sara Gray worked on that CCEW effort to identify new markets and sources of revenue. That led to a job working with a state health care organization.
“I would not have had this opportunity if it were not for the CCEW MyHealth project,” she says of her state job. “Our project gave me a valuable foundation to work in any aspect of health care/health care informatics.” Now she is returning to CCEW as a team leader.
A CCEW team also worked with a Tulsa company, ICEdot, to research the potential of using sensors in football helmets to alert coaches and trainers to possible head injuries. ICEdot (ICE stands for “in case of emergency”) was putting sensors in bicycle helmets and devices for skiers and similar active sports when CEO Chris Zenthoefer decided “it would be great to have a student team work with us” as he explored new markets.
Caroline Trump headed that team, which she says had the task of “actually researching what sports a helmet sensor would have most impact in and (developing) an application that would work.” The team found that football had the most head injuries and that high schools offered the largest market because of the large number of players.
She says the team focused on using the iPad for the application because “we found that trainers and coaches were more likely to carry that on (the) sideline rather than a cell phone.”
Zenthoefer was pleased with the students assigned to the project.
“The overall quality of work was top notch,” he says. “They required a lot less oversight than I expected and produced a whole lot more than I expected.”
Now, he says, ICEdot is “following a lot of paths they laid out … with a good chunk of their advice.”
The Innovation and Sustainability Institute began this August, with nine OU-Tulsa faculty members receiving mentoring and financial support for developing innovative ideas. It kicked off with a one-day “boot camp” and lasts for a full academic year.
Participants will be trained and mentored in areas such as financial planning, licensing, business strategy and revenue development. Each participant will receive a $1,000 stipend and one will get an additional $5,000 based on his or her work, dedication and progress in the program.
CCEW’s newest project, The Mine, was developed uniquely for Tulsa and funded by the George Kaiser Family and Lobeck-Taylor foundations in cooperation with The Forge, a startup incubator of Tulsa’s Young Professionals through the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
The Mine’s overriding goal is “entrepreneurial growth, talent and development in Tulsa.” It focuses on social programs, and its core component will team 10 young professionals to develop a “socially innovative idea” for Tulsa. Those individuals will be chosen and start work this fall. A second component will develop “social venture” programming and training for local organizations, both nonprofit and commercial. The idea is to apply solid business, entrepreneurial and financial practices for community projects.
“We are doing a lot of project scoping,” Potter says, looking at what has worked and what has not, legal issues, financial aspects and property rights. “We’re doing research to make sure we have the right type of project.”
The Mine effort will extend through the 2013-14 school year.