By Scott Meacham
ACT Tulsa is a special initiative that those of us in this state can be thankful for.
Amazing — that is the word that Program Manager Taleya Mayberry uses to describe the launch speed of ACT Tulsa, the joint venture between i2E and ACT House that is laser-focused on cultivating underestimated founders in Tulsa and beyond.
Taleya knows “Amazing.”
Prior to joining ACT Tulsa, she was a professional basketball player and then coach of women’s basketball at University of Tulsa.
ACT Tulsa got off to a jump-ball start in August with the first cohort of nine startup companies. This 6-month cohort driven accelerator program is aimed at cultivating and driving innovation of minority-led technology startups in Tulsa and beyond.
Here’s what happens when a basketball player joins an impatient and ambitious team that recruits Black and Brown entrepreneurs.
The nine startups — all from different industries, ranging from mobile laundry service to consumer goods, from edtech and software, from fashiontech to meal prep — completed 15 workshops. This was an endurance course in the practical details of market validation, challenging the business model, setting up business processes, and more.
“It has been amazing,” said Malachi Blankenship, i2E venture advisor and director. “The founders of these first nine companies are verifying what we believed we could do. ACT Tulsa is a founder-focused effort that is different than any other accelerator out there.”
ACT Tulsa entrepreneurs are working with more than 40 advisors, and I mean really working. ACT Tulsa advisors are not names on a list. They take phone calls. They make referrals. They deliver tough love, coaching, and invaluable insights. The majority of them are minorities themselves, females, and people of color.
“The progress that these founders have made has been incredible,” Taleya said. “One thing I really love, and that surprised me, was the collaboration of the companies. They learned through our curriculum and from advisors, but they also are learning from each other. They were at various stages. They bounced ideas off each other, and helped each other. Just one example is how one company went through how payroll worked for them with another company that was beginning to hire.”
ACT Tulsa provides working space in the 36 Degrees North Incubator. That puts ACT Tulsa founders with other founders in Tulsa. Just being in this space and meeting and crossing paths with other founders is a really good eye-opener for everyone.
“We are really focused on building a better pipeline of Black and Brown entrepreneurs in Tulsa. We have received applicants from so many stages of companies with great ideas — from entrepreneurs with a great idea and no business plan to companies that have managed to create a minimal viable product (MVP) or some type of product but need help to develop it,” Taleya said.
When these nine startups were selected to join the first ACT Tulsa cohort, we understood what they could become. We are already seeing what that looks like as their product plans take shape and their marketing strategies evolve. They stand for dozens and dozens of entrepreneurs and companies from communities that have been overlooked and underserved.
It will be my pleasure over the next several columns to write more about these companies and entrepreneurs. I hope you enjoy reading about them as much as we enjoy collaborating with them. ACT Tulsa is a special initiative that those of us in this state can be thankful for.
Scott Meacham CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at [email protected].