Attracting financing and angel investors is a challenge for Oklahoma biotechs. The 15 local venture capital firms aren’t particularly risk adverse—after all, they funded similarly risky oil and gas ventures—but they don’t know the biotech industry. And, while the California and Massachusetts firms that do know biotech say good ideas will always find funding, they generally prefer to work close to home. Consequently, even Dr. Anderson admits, there is a paucity of venture capital funding.
Much of the financing comes through grants from the Presbyterian Health Foundation, the Oklahoma Center of the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) and, for seed funding, i2E (Turning Innovation into Enterprise).
“We’re starting to see some national recognition of life sciences in OKC,” partially because of the Procure Proton Therapy Center (one of seven in the U.S.) opening a few miles north in Edmond, notes Mike Carolina, executive director of OCAST. The NIH is a significant source of research funding as well. Today, OCAST is a $22 million state agency with a return on investment to the state of 20:1. Within 10 years, Carolina predicts its investment funds will more than double. OCAST also manages the $1 billion EDGE endowment to fund science and technology projects.
OKC has undergone a major transformation in the past 30 years. No longer a gritty cow town, arts and entertainment districts are flourishing.