By Scott Meacham
A new organization in Tulsa is working to knock down the hurdles that are holding people back.
There is something happening in Tulsa that everyone in this state who cares about job creation and innovation in Oklahoma needs to know about. It is called ACT Tulsa. It is a six-month accelerator program aimed at cultivating underestimated founders located in Tulsa and beyond.
What do I mean by underestimated? Founders who are Black and Brown.
Black founders receive roughly 1 percent of all venture capital funding in this country. One of the main reasons for that is only 2 percent of venture capitalists are Black. The very nature of venture capital and investing in early stage companies is networking. VCs invest with people they know and in industries and markets they understand. They go where they went before, and that has not been into under-served communities.
The VC industry, and everyone else who benefits from entrepreneurial job creation–that would be all of us — are missing out on a cadre of talent with great ideas and deep understanding of market and revenue opportunities that are not part of the typical VC landscape. New perspectives create new deals. New deals create new jobs and wealth.
But, for as tough as it is for any entrepreneur to access capital, it is even more difficult for Black entrepreneurs. That reality that can stop innovation in its tracks.
About two years ago one of our venture advisors in Tulsa, Malachi Blankenship, approached the i2E management team. Malachi was raised to see the world not as “we” and “they” but as “us.”
Now is the time to fix the gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem Malachi told us. Let’s take what we know about supporting startups, find the right partners, and team up to assemble the expertise, the resources, and the community relationships to support underestimated founders and tap into that source of innovation that has have been overlooked and underserved, traditionally and systematically.
A lot has happened between then and now. ACT Tulsa is the result. It is working to knock down the hurdles that hold back underestimated founders.
ACT Tulsa is a joint venture between i2E and ACT House. ACT stands for architects, creatives, and techies — the three talents that must be part of every entrepreneurial team. It’s a unique approach that ACT House founder, Dominick Ard’is, brings from Florida and other regions to our joint initiative in Tulsa. The initiative is supported by Biolchini Family Foundation, Black Tech Street, Build in Tulsa, Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Coretz Family Foundation, and Vast Bank.
This is a one-of-a-kind accelerator. Not only will we be providing i2E’s venture services through the ACT House programmatic model, ACT Tulsa provides $70,000 to each company in non-dilutive and non-recourse capital. Unlike typical accelerators, we do not take equity in the company, allowing the founders to maintain 100 percent ownership of their ventures.
As we know from our 22 years of experience with TBFP, an early stage “starter fund” we manage for OCAST, early concept stage capital can have a huge impact on a startup that later becomes a record-setting IPO, as Alkami Technology, our first unicorn, did this spring. And, like TBFP, that early stage capital can become self-renewing as the startups it funds gain traction and scale.
ACT Tulsa is in the process of its formal launch. The program welcomed its first cohort of nine entrepreneurs last month. They and their startups have three months to incubate and three months to implement.
I’m going to be writing about ACT Tulsa throughout. I hope you will join us and the many people and organizations who are working to knock down the hurdles that are holding people back. We are looking to make investments in 45 founders over the next three years. It’s a goal worthy of Oklahoma and all Oklahomans. Reach out if you would like to add your support.
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.