Since opening its doors in May, the Collaboratorium--an entrepreneurial resource center located downtown--has had no trouble finding its target audience.
An organization designed to provide entrepreneurs with discounted shared office space, hands-on business coaching, education, networking and access to other resources, the Collaboratorium already has signed on seven member firms and filled the entire 10th floor of a building at 111 W. 5th St., a total of 8,000 square feet.
"In the three months we've been doing this, this has taken off and is growing much more quickly than I imagined," said Sean Griffin, chairman of the Collaboratorium's board of directors. "I'm excited by the quality of entrepreneurs we're receiving applications from and interviewing. We're seeing some very interesting and high-potential business start-ups in Tulsa."
The Collaboratorium's Web site (www.tulsacollab.com) refers to the organization as an entrepreneurial accelerator, but Griffin likes to call it an incubator hybrid.
"We're not forcing entrepreneurs to follow any strict guidelines," he said. "When they need help, they come to us."
The organization grew out of Mayor Kathy Taylor's Tulsa Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards, an annual competition sponsored by SpiritBank that awards a cash prize of $30,000 each year to the winning firm, as voted on by a panel of local business people.
"The Collaboratorium is fulfilling that need we saw and continue to see in Spirit Awards participants," Griffin said.
Utilizing office space provided by Kanbar Properties Inc. and donations from a variety of other companies, the Collaboratorium welcomed its first members in the spring. Enchanted Grove Films LLC--which seeks to promote the growth of independent filmmaking in Tulsa through the use of local actors, directors, crews and locations--is the latest fledgling company to join the lineup, which also includes Grocio, Hollywood Fitness and Repair, BeautiFuels, Ping.fm, Recycling Revolution and the Greater Tulsa Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
The Enchanted Grove Films' executive producer, Starr Hardgrove, said he and partners Titus Jackson and Rob Harris were looking for a way to get their idea of a Tulsa film company off the ground last year and had a bit of start-up money, but essentially had hit a wall. That's when Hardgrove stumbled across the Collaboratorium Web site one night while surfing the Web.
"We're all three artists, and it can be difficult to have the business side of it," he said.
Hardgrove contacted the Collaboratorium staff, and he and his partners went through the application and interview process, learning how to put together a business plan and attract more capital. They eventually became part of the organization and now conduct business on the 10th floor of the building, sharing space with the other member firms.
For Hardgrove, the Collaboratorium has been a difference maker, allowing his dream to become a reality.
"That's invaluable to anyone who's looking to create a business," he said of what the Collaboratorium offers.
Enchanted Grove occupies 600 square feet of office space at the Collaboratorium and is able to access the assorted office equipment, meeting space and business expertise the organization provides through its team of 76 coaches.
"It's nice," said Amy Lee, who handles publicity and promotions for Enchanted Grove, of the surroundings. "We were surprised and impressed. It's the real deal."
Hardgrove said when he and his partners first got a look at their new offices, their first response was, "How are we going to use all this stuff?"
But they've quickly learned to take advantage of everything the Collaboratorium offers as they pursue their first project, a feature-length film called "Why I Love Tulsa."
A compilation of shorts created by 25 Tulsa directors, the film's two central themes are, appropriately, love and Tulsa. Directors have only 48 hours to complete the filming for each of their segments. Hardgrove describes it as a Valentine for the city and said it is patterned after similar projects based in New York and Paris. He plans to release it on Feb. 14, 2010.
That's an ambitious schedule for project that didn't begin pre-production until April, but Hardgrove is confident Enchanted Films can meet its deadline. Four of the 21 segments have been shot already, and the rest are scheduled to finish photography by Oct. 1, he said.
Each of the directors will do a rough cut of his or her segment, Hardgrove said, then the Enchanted Films staff will take a look at it and make suggestions before returning it to the director to make the final cut. Shorter vignettes produced by Enchanted Grove will tie the segments together, Hardgrove said.
Hardgrove hopes "Why I Love Tulsa," which is budgeted at $96,000, inspires a good deal of local pride. But he also hopes it serves as a showcase for all those who are trying to make a living in the film industry in Tulsa, as well as for all the locations the city has to offer. Many of the most recognizable attractions, streetscapes and neighborhoods in Tulsa will be featured in the film.
If Hollywood won't come to Tulsa--though it did earlier this year to shoot some scenes for the remake of the classic Jim Thompson pulp novel "The Killer Inside Me," starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba--the partners in Enchanted Films hope to create an atmosphere here where independent film and filmmakers can thrive. Failing that, they just want to make it possible for actors, directors and crew members to build a career in Tulsa doing what they love.
"We'd all rather stay here where our families are," Lee said. "That's what we're proponents of."
Hardgrove said there's no reason why the film industry can't take root in Tulsa. Increasingly, West Coast producers are attracted to locales as far flung as New Mexico and Canada to shoot their productions so that they can take advantage of local incentive programs and lower costs.
"I see commercials and TV shows all the time that can be filmed here," Hardgrove said.
In the meantime, "Why I Love Tulsa" is giving a lot of people a taste of what the feature film business is like. Hardgrove estimated that between 400 and 600 people are involved in the production.
"It's a low flame," he said of the industry's local stature right now. "We're just trying to fan it into a big, raging forest fire."
That would suit Griffin just fine. He said the real measure of the ultimate success of the Collaboratorium will be the ability of its member firms to fly away and make it on their own, preferably within a year or two. That will free up space and resources for other new firms to join the organization.
Griffin said the organization has received some 40 applications so far and interviews about two potential members each week. Despite its success thus far, he said the Collaboratorium can accomplish much more.
"I have some crazy vision of unlimited growth potential," he said, adding that he hopes to focus at some point on green businesses that he believes could fuel the next economic revolution. He also wants to reach out to all segments of the community.
"We're in the process of creating a partnership with the Asian-Indio Chamber of Commerce," he said. "I want to create an oasis of diversity that reflects a Silicon Valley-like melting pot. From that, you get innovative ideas you wouldn't get if you're just hanging out with the same kind of people from the same cultural background. This is a real opportunity to open the doors of perception."
At its essence, Griffin sees the Collaboratorium as a safe harbor for its members, a place where young entrepreneurs "who don't know what they don't know" can receive sage advice and avoid the pitfalls that sink so many other start-up businesses.
"Part of our success factor is that we're all about the entrepreneur," he said. "As long as that remains our focus, we will remain successful."
Share this article: