May 8, 2015
One of the best things that can happen to any startup or entrepreneur is when you encounter other organizations willing to collaborate with you. As a startup founder I often use the willingness of like-minded organizations to partner as a litmus test of whether or not we’re on the right track. In most cases it doesn’t cost anything to partner or collaborate with an outside organization, so if you’re getting a lot of silence from a well-spoken (or written) pitch you may want to find out why. If you’re still working in a silo and don’t believe you can benefit from any outside partnerships you’re missing out on one of the best growth hacks available to you.
If you’re willing to let others build upon or help shape your vision, good things will happen. That’s exactly what is happening with startups that partner with the Center for Creation of Economic Wealth (CCEW) in Oklahoma.
CCEW is an economic development organization part of the University of Oklahoma (OU). They believe in “creating wealth by helping advance ideas, people and businesses.” Launched in 2006, CCEW started out with the mission to get students “real world” experiences in the private sector. However, they quickly realized that the private sector had as much to gain as the students. In 2010 CCEW added its Software Business Accelerator and, social entrepreneurship program. A funding accelerator (OFA) and agile product design program followed in 2011 and 2013 respectively. These programs allow students to collaborate and work on software startups and social innovation.
I recently attended some of the CCEW students’ presentations on the startups they have been collaborating with and was very impressed with both the organizations and the contributions these students made. I caught up with Director of CCEW Programs in Tulsa, Taylor Potter, on how she views CCEW can help a startup evolve and grow.
Tech.Co: Why should a software startup choose to engage the CCEW?
Taylor Potter: We use talented teams of software developers and business analysts to create a well-rounded set of business recommendations for a new product or company. Our developers create the MVP and perform user testing while our analysts look at the product/market fit and develop the business strategy. All of this happens in 16 weeks! So if a company has an idea that they’ve been waiting to move forward for awhile but might not have the time or resources, we’re the ones that can make that happen.
The CCEW recently hit a milestone of 100 projects completed. What have been some of your favorite projects that came out of the software business accelerator?
[TP] CCEW has touched a vast array of projects and industries, from commercializing new, rare earths recycling methods to building devices to help improve robotic surgery and building iPad technology to increase doctors’ communication with their young patients. We work on some awesome projects, so it’s hard to choose a favorite. I think most interns will tell you the project he or she has worked on stands out as the most memorable. The same holds true for me, I interned with CCEW 6 years ago and worked on commercializing a gas chromatograph which led to licensing negotiations and developed market recommendations for fiber optic intrusion detection devices.
Do CCEW students ever end up working with the startup full time?
[TP] Yes! About 30% of our alumni are active in startups or have founded their own. However, we have more CCEW alumni that want to work with startups, especially in the Oklahoma area, than we can find startups to place them in. We’ve got incredible talent and are always looking for more ways to plug them into the local startup scene.
What role do you think CCEW plays in the evolution of the companies you work with? Do you feel CCEW changes a company’s vision or in some cases business model?
[TP] CCEW is most successful in the early ideation phase of a company or idea. We’re great at understanding and unveiling product/market fit and building MVPs. There are some cases where our work on a new product has changed a company’s path. For example, we were working with a new, portable radar device when our students recommended the offshore oil platforms as a market, one not previously considered by the company. This radar is now one of the company’s fastest selling radars in history.
What do you look for when choosing a company to partner with?
[TP] Our projects are not merely an “exercise”, we expect them to be real-world projects that can be changemakers in their respective companies or industries. So first and foremost we want a partner who understands that; we want a partner that if the product or technology is proven successful, that they will carry it to fruition.
Are you currently looking for new startups to pair students?
[TP] Yes! We are constantly on the lookout for new projects. We generally take on 5-7 a semester, which often requires looking at 30+ potential projects to find five that are big and high-impact enough for us to want to work with them. If anyone has an idea, they are more than welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can learn more about CCEW at their website: http://www.ou.edu/ccew.html
Image Credit: Cornerstone International, 2013
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