By Scott Meacham
ACT Tulsa is very intentional about creating an on-ramp to trust with founders who are Black and Brown.
ACT Tulsa, the six-month cohort-driven accelerator program aimed at cultivating underestimated founders located in Tulsa and beyond, is up and running with its inaugural cohort of nine startup companies. The 17 entrepreneurs, working out of the 36 Degrees North Incubator, are one-month into their 90-day “incubation” segment.
Except that ACT Tulsa founders don’t call it “incubation,” they call it a “sprint.” That is a very fitting description of the hard work and determination early stage ventures demand.
When we read the headlines of exits involving Selexys and Alkami Technologies, two extremely successful companies that were Oklahoma startups and OCAST TBFP recipients, we focus on the headlines — and appropriately so. After all, Selexys scaled from a TBFP investment back in 2008, to being acquired by Novartis in a $665 million deal. Alkami Technology, Oklahoma’s first unicorn, received early TBFP and Oklahoma Seed Fund investment and went on to go public this spring with an IPO valuation of more than $1 billion.
It’s a journey
But innovation and job creation through entrepreneurship isn’t only about the destination; it’s about the journey it takes to get there.
ACT House CEO Dominick Ard’is, describes it, “We see the six championships that MJ won, or look at Oprah being a billionaire, or at Reginal Lewis taking companies to IPO, and people don’t see all the work that happens behind the veil.”
The difficult work behind the veil is what ACT Tulsa is all about.
“The first element of our program is dealing with the entrepreneur and founder as a human,” Dominick said. “No matter if the person is black, white, Asian, Malaysian, there are challenges. Entrepreneurs of color face additional challenges in navigating the system. Entrepreneurs and founders have to be strategic in how they navigate that. Developing the entrepreneurial mindset is mental and psychological work. I have experiences with some of those things, and as a founder of color that’s just a reality.”
ACT Tulsa is very intentional about creating an on-ramp to trust with founders who are Black and Brown. There is a certain level of cultural awareness that had to happen — changes that we all are going through — to connect with this segment of our state’s population.
Having multiple stakeholders from across the ecosystem involved has been so important. ACT Tulsa is a joint venture between i2E and ACT House, with the engagement and investments from Biolchini Family Foundation, Black Tech Street, Build In Tulsa, Coretz Family Foundation, Schusterman Family Philanthropies and Vast Bank.
“We have gained inroads from these powerhouse organizations,” Dominick said. “This work is not charity work. It is not philanthropic. The focus is creating an access point. How we bring in great founders. How we center them around our team model. How we position them to build revenue within their company and prepare themselves for growth.”
This is happening. Imagine the community and state-wide impact when we have six, eight, or a dozen underestimated founders in Tulsa who are growing their startups and creating jobs.
Let’s make the dreams of the first 17 ACT Tulsa founders our dreams, too.
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 i2E_Comments@i2E.org.