Sean Griffin thinks Tulsa's got talent, and he would have a good idea.
As the founder of the Tulsa Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards and the chair of entrepreneurialism for the city's Economic Development Commission, Griffin is supposed to know a good idea when he sees one. Lately, one idea has grabbed his attention -- the idea that Tulsa will soon become known for successfully fostering talent.
"I think we're getting close to a national model that is rather extraordinary and can be replicated in other communities," Griffin said. "We've created an entrepreneurial ecosystem. It's grown, and it continues to grow. We keep seeing new programs pop up."
Griffin has seen Tulsa's focus for economic growth shift toward embracing the city's entrepreneurial spirit over the past four years after the city first participated in Global Entrepreneurial Week. From there came the Tulsa Entrepreneurial Spirit Awards, a business model competition in which participants get to speak with business leaders who coach them on how to create a business model. Last year's winner received a $30,000 check to help that business model succeed. Add to that a number of business incubator and accelerator programs that have grown over the past two years, and soon Tulsa will be recognized by other cities for its collective efforts, Griffin said.
Last month, he watched as one of the last pieces of that entrepreneurial ecosystem fell into place with the completion of the first Launch Your Entrepreneurial Journey program. This Tulsa Community College program, the first of its kind in Tulsa, taught 14 entrepreneurs how to take an idea and create an operating business, said Griffin, the entrepreneurial program developer at TCC. At the end of the 16-week course, Griffin was surprised with the results.
"We beat all of our expectations," he said. "We anticipated we would launch two to three new companies. We launched five the day of the graduation celebration, and seven of the other companies were prepared in launching within three months."
Although the program has been a success and will continue with applications being accepted for the second round of the program until September 20, TCC was taking a risk to take on such a program, Griffin said. When the provost of TCC's southeast campus approached Griffin about developing the course, both agreed Launch had to be different than other business and entrepreneur classes offered at many academic institutions.
Throughout the course, participants learned to create a working business model for their ideal company. This non-traditional, experiential-based program allowed participants to meet with business leaders and coaches every week.
While Launch participants began to study their business models, Griffin decided to study them by following their success for the next three years.
"Our hypothesis is this: If you connect someone's passion with a business idea, teach them how to build a team around their strengths and weaknesses and then focus on the development of a strong business model, we can increase the success rates of startups," he said. "It's a very important concept because we know coaching and mentoring increases the odds of success for startups, but there was nobody researching the ability to connect the passion with the business idea and building a team."
Steven Copley entered into the Launch program with something many of the other participants did not have -- experience.
"I have a web development company I've ran for eight years," he said. "But I've probably never run it correctly."
Before applying for the Launch program, Copley had been looking online for a certain product, only to learn the kind of leather briefcase he wanted would cost nearly $700. Lacking business training, Copley decided to enter the program to learn the basics of how to start a business selling leather briefcases and bags. Copley decided to use his leatherworking skills he learned as a child to make his own. Now he is making his own business.
"There's a huge market there, an exploding market," he said. "So I saw potential and that's where the idea came from to sell a bag that men could afford.
"Now I have products. That's an amazing thing in just 16 weeks to go from a hair-brained scheme to having products."
Now, Copley's new company, Red Earth Leather, will sell bags and briefcases made from environmentally sound materials. Although the products will not be available until next month, customers have already pre-ordered items on the company's website.
"Launch kind of released the beast inside of me," he said. "I now know how to do it right."
For Copley, that program, coached by more than 30 business leaders and startup connections, was his ticket to creating his vision. And with the growing entrepreneurial community in Tulsa, he has resources that can help people like him further that vision, Griffin said.
One such figure in the entrepreneurial community is the Tulsa Young Professionals' business incubator, The Forge. Although TYPros began looking into the idea almost five years ago, the incubator was not able to open until this past June. Before opening day, it became obvious that people in the community were excited about the project, said Karisha Arnett, executive director of The Forge.
"Everyone we went to for funding and support said 'yes'," she said. "That was pretty amazing to be able to say we weren't turned down by anyone we approached."
The Forge tenants receive office space, desks and a phone system to help their startups get to the next level. But Arnett said it is not the supplies and amenities that push companies toward success.
"It's really about the programs and the ability to network with other young entrepreneurs," she said. "We'll have round tables where we can come together and talk about problems, their successes and how they can help each other."
Much like the Launch program, a group of CEOs and experienced business leaders from around the area also offer advice.
"Anyone can start up a company and run with it from their dining room table or home office," Arnett said. "But the nice thing about being in a situation like this is that networking experience you get."
The Forge currently has two tenants -- one that focuses on helping beginning adventure travelers set up a trip and another that creates web-based programs to help doctors better analyze results for their patients. The diversity of its current tenants is what sets The Forge apart from other business incubators, Arnett said.
"Most incubators in Oklahoma are school or industry specific," she said. "We wanted to pull all of our resources and community partners to reach out to all industries."
With nine more spaces available, Arnett is currently going through more applications to fill those slots.
Griffin also founded a similar program to help guide entrepreneurs to the necessary connections to be successful. The Collaboratorium was a direct outgrowth from the Tulsa Entrepreneurial Spirit Award as Griffin saw the success these participants could have when involved with the right network of business leaders.
After signing a one-year lease, The Collaboratorium allows these startups to have access to more than 70 coaches and specialists in anything from financial management and business model development to public relations development and accounting.
The Collaboratorium also has a network of investors whom tenants can meet.
With the success of The Collaboratorium and other programs, as more businesses, organizations and academic institutions continue to expand this entrepreneurial community, Griffin said the entire city could see the benefits.
"The more startups we can create and the more we can create a culture of startups in Tulsa, the more our economy will flourish," he said.
Share this article: