By Scott Meacham
It is exciting to see all that Tulsa is pouring into minority founders through ACT Tulsa.
ACT Tulsa, Oklahoma’s unique six-month cohort-driven accelerator program aimed at cultivating and driving innovation for underestimated founders located in Tulsa and beyond, is accepting applications for cohort #2. In just a few short months, we have reached the point where the work of ACT Tulsa can speak for itself.
The inaugural nine-company group of founders completed their formal course of training last month and we have results. ACT Tulsa deployed $630,000. Those nine firms have raised $1.5 million in follow-on capital. The companies have already produced more than $150,000 in revenue. They are in industries that range from consumer goods to software. Many of our founders have lived in Tulsa their entire lives. Others came to Oklahoma from far away.
Kene Onuorah, co-founder of ACT Tulsa startup Comme Homme, was born to Nigerian parents. “Many Nigerian parents push their kids to be doctors or engineers,” Kene said. “That wasn’t for me.”
After graduating from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kene was working in healthcare consulting when he started his first company — an apparel business. The idea for Comme Homme, his second venture, came to Kene after he experience an anxiety-filled, three-year battle with hair loss
“I still remember the night,” Kene said. “It was a 2013 New Year’s Eve party in Atlanta. I was dressed very nicely. A friend of mine was standing on a couch taking aerial photos. The next day when I saw the album on Facebook, there was this one guy who had a massive bald spot on the crown of his head. I looked at the blazer the guy was wearing. I was stunned, embarrassed, shocked to realize that guy was me.”
Kene is normally a very confident individual. “The thing about hair loss,” he said, is that for a lot of guys, including myself, we think we are going to look horrible with a bald head. My friends joke now about how I always wore hats to cover it up.”
Kene researched baldness — finding that two-thirds of all American men will deal with significant hair loss by the age of 35. While enrolled in the MBA program at the University of Michigan, he connected with Mejoy Lawson, who is also bald and had an interest in entrepreneurship. One idea led to the next, and together they founded Comme Homme.
Bald is Beautiful
The startup is a technology-enabled direct to consumer personal care and lifestyle brand for men that are either bald or dealing with hair loss. Comme Homme, which means “as a man” in French, is a play on the colloquialism “come home,” which is slang for “Just shave your head, Bro. Own it.”
“We turned our embarrassment and anxiety with hair loss into a brand that celebrates baldness and provides products and a community to support men in their hair loss journey,” Kene said. “We won a business plan competition at school. Then we heard about ACT Tulsa and applied. If you had told me that we would have $70,000 and all this support to get our company off the ground, I would have told you ‘no way.’”
Kene had never visited Oklahoma before ACT Tulsa.
“The Tulsa community has been tremendous,” he said. “We are in the first cohort of ACT Tulsa with entrepreneurs who are working hard to build businesses in several fields. One of the most important parts has been hanging around other founders, having discussions about business models, how we go to market and the best way to build this company. It is exciting to see all that Tulsa continues to pour in to this.”
This is just the first story of the new products and markets that we expect to see from ACT Tulsa entrepreneurs. More than 40 experts and business leaders from across the country are actively engaged as advisors. We are reaching talent and innovation that has been overlooked. Let us know if you would like to be part of this change.
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.