By Rex Smitherman
Copyright © 2012, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
“Just starting out.”
In entrepreneurship, those are three magical words full of optimism, promise and potential.
While there are many stages in the entrepreneurial path where support is critical, there is nothing more important to creating a durable innovation economy than helping aspiring entrepreneurs get off to a robust start.
The more targeted and specific that help is, the better. That’s the idea behind Hardesty Center for Fab Lab Tulsa.
Fab Lab Tulsa is a nonprofit entity that, in collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), provides a diverse collection of the latest in computerized design, fabrication and assembly equipment in one community location.
MIT developed the Fab Lab concept, which has been deployed in more than 100 locations. Fab Lab Tulsa is one of the first in the Midwest.
The center serves people participating in the entrepreneurial ecosystem, providing services that range from fun programs to promote mathematics, engineering and science education for high school students to hosting user forums for individuals who are deep into using 3-D modeling tools such as Sketchup or 123D.
Fab Lab Tulsa also is a remarkable resource for entrepreneurs who want to create a product (as opposed to an iPhone app). The center provides training and access to the state-of-the art machines needed to build a finely honed prototype, including laser cutters, ShotBot and MakerBot tools, and a menu of software that would make design engineers at Boeing smile.
“Hundreds of thousands of dollars of equipment has been donated,” said Mark Lauinger, i2E venture adviser in Tulsa. “Fab Lab Tulsa is a great resource to fabricate mechanical prototypes. Entrepreneurs can do things here that they can’t do anywhere else.”
And when Tulsa-based entrepreneurs gain traction from their prototypes and are ready to progress to the next phase of “starting out,” The Forge, Tulsa’s Young Professionals business incubation program, stands ready to help.
“The most successful incubators nurture companies by focusing first on their products and services,” Lauinger said. “The Forge provides valuable business services as a fast start for entrepreneurs who are beginning to build a company. This is a great on-ramp and proving ground for creating more successful small businesses.”
With resources such as these, Oklahoma continues to build a cohesive entrepreneurial ecosystem that helps companies that are “just starting out” grow into companies that add jobs and create wealth.
Rex Smitherman is interim president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Smitherman at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW? Small businesses make up 80 percent of all businesses in Tulsa County.