With more than $4 billion available each year, the federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) program offers an unparalleled opportunity for life science entrepreneurs to turn their R&D into successful companies. Even though SBIR/STTR funding in Oklahoma has led to successful startups like Selexys, Oklahoma historically takes poor advantage of the SBIR/STTR program and its potential to dramatically scale Oklahoma’s biotech community. In 2018, the University of Oklahoma’s Tom Love Innovation Hub and collaborators from across the state of Oklahoma launched the Oklahoma Catalyst Programs to significantly improve Oklahoma’s performance with SBIR/STTR funding. Over the last year, the Oklahoma Catalyst programs has helped eight companies secure more than $5.2 million in funding and engaged hundreds of students, researchers and entrepreneurs across Oklahoma to consider launching their Oklahoma startup through SBIR/STTR funding. While the Catalyst Programs have already demonstrated great promise, there are no Oklahoma Catalyst Programs with a specific life science focus.
To build upon the success of the Oklahoma Catalyst programs and grow Oklahoma City’s biotech community, the Tom Love Innovation Hub has been funded through a $100,000 grant from the Presbyterian Health Foundation to launch a pair of life sciences-focused Oklahoma Catalyst programs with the support of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center (OUHSC) and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The proposed Catalyst Life Science Researchers program is an eight-week program to teach life science graduate students, post-docs, researchers and faculty key principles of entrepreneurship toward improving the applications of their research, accelerating technology transfer and launching more life sciences startup companies through SBIR/STTR funding. The proposed Catalyst Life Science Accelerator will line up all of the resources and mentoring to lead a researcher to effectively respond to a relevant life sciences-related SBIR/STTR opportunity.
The Oklahoma Catalyst Programs already have demonstrated the potential of these proposed efforts. In 2018, Dr. Henry Shin (OUHSC Ph.D. and post-doc) participated in the Oklahoma Catalyst Researchers program (the original non-life science-specific version of the proposed Catalyst Life Science Researchers) and founded a company, Excitant Therapeutics, based upon his research and partners from OU and OUHSC. He then worked with the Oklahoma Catalyst program, through an informal “accelerator” to submit and eventually win an NIH Phase I SBIR proposal. Dr. Shin and Excitant Therapeutics are now working with the Oklahoma Catalyst programs to help them secure an NIH Phase II SBIR program.