By Jim Stafford
Copyright © 2018, The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
The Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) was created by the state Legislature during the depth of the oil bust in 1987. OCAST was established to diversify and grow Oklahoma’s economy through science and technology-based activities that would ensure that the state would not depend on any one industry sector.
Along the way, OCAST developed nationally acclaimed research support programs and strategic partnerships that today are advancing research and development, technology inventions, innovations, entrepreneurship and STEM-related jobs across multiple industry sectors, including aerospace and defense, bioscience and biotechnology, information technology and advanced manufacturing.
“Oklahoma has a storied history in making things, growing things, inventing things and doing innovative entrepreneurial things that are foundational for increased growth and scalability,” said C. Michael Carolina, OCAST executive director. “Together with our strategic partners and alliances, we are supporting cutting-edge R&D, technology-based startups, small business and workforce development by growing a culture of innovation across Oklahoma and transforming Oklahoma into a major technology corridor.”
OCAST has funded nearly 2,700 projects over the past three decades and realized a 22:1 return for every dollar of state investment. The $294 million invested in research and development through OCAST has returned $6.5 billion in total economic impact, including private-sector and federal funding, investment in facilities, jobs and sales. And, the OCAST Intern Partnership program has been described as a “win-win-win” for the state’s colleges and universities, businesses and students in talent development, retention and recruiting.
OCAST pursues economic development through a collaboration that involves government, business and academia. Its strategic partners are the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance (OMA), now in its 25th year; i2E Inc., now in its 20th year; and OSU’s New Product Development Center, now in its 15th year of operation.
Together, the strategic partners comprise the Oklahoma Innovation Model, which leverages the state’s assets to help increase research capacity in the state and to launch and grow Oklahoma companies for sustainable growth. OCAST and its partners have celebrated spectacular successes that go far beyond the numbers.
For evidence, consider the successful exits in late 2016 of Oklahoma City-based WeGoLook and Selexys Pharmaceuticals. The state-funded Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund was an early investor in each company. Their acquisitions by international companies brought hundreds of millions of dollars of new investment capital into the state, and their management teams remain in our state.
Or consider the story of Wei Chen, a University of Central Oklahoma professor pioneering a new way to treat late-stage metastatic cancers. In 2017, Chen was awarded a $1.34 million grant from the National Institutes of Health based on original research supported by the OCAST Health Research program.
It all translates into a more resilient, diverse Oklahoma economy that creates good-paying jobs.
Jim Stafford writes about Oklahoma innovation and research and development topics on behalf of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science & Technology (OCAST).