By Brian Ervin
Copyright © 2012 Tulsa Business Journal. All rights reserved.
Tulsa’s Young Professionals business incubation program, The Forge, recently moved into its new permanent home within the Wright Building, and the move to its new facilities comes with a broadening of the support they can provide to budding entrepreneurs.
“This is really ‘The Forge 2.0,’ ” said Brian Paschal, executive director of The Forge and TYPros. “It’s an exciting time for us. It really is a new beginning for us. The new space is more than just a new look; it really allows us to expand our services.”
In describing The Forge, Paschal said, “Imagine going to Starbucks, but everyone there is avidly interested in business and new ideas.”
The advantages offered by the new offices for start-up businesses are many, Paschal said, but lie primarily in a few key areas.
The first and most tangible is the operational head start provided through low cost, furnished and equipped office space.
“Literally, you walk in and you have an office in a box,” he said.
The new facility at 125 W. Third St. has space for up to seven businesses and 25 people.
Tenants have 24-hour access to their office space, along with utilities, telephone and internet access, office supplies, conference rooms, and other core services.
“The newly renovated space boasts an urban style which exudes the kind of energetic and innovative atmosphere where great ideas come to life,” said Paschal.
The new space was funded partly by a grant provided by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which was secured by the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation.
Another benefit of The Forge are the resources provided by the TEDC, which shares the office space, as well as the support of the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center, which has a representative on-site.
TEDC is a direct lending program specializing in promoting and sustaining small business growth in Tulsa.
Paschal described OSMDC as “the state’s most comprehensive business assistance network.”
Along with the support provided by TEDC and OSBDC, he said they also bring in attorneys and graphic artists and others to create a kind of “entrepreneurial curriculum” to provide various forms of guidance to young business leaders.
In addition, Forge tenants also receive a free one-year membership to the Tulsa Metro Chamber.
Dixie Agostino, founder of Switchgear Search and Recruiting, said that membership helped her “build business acumen” and establish the legitimacy of her business.
“As a Chamber member, you have access to market research and a network of mentors and small business owners who have faced the challenges of starting a company,” she said.
Agostino’s company is a “graduate” of The Forge, having grown to independence after eighteen months. Her business stayed behind at One Technology Center when The Forge moved to its new location.
Bonvoy Adventure Travel and intelliAD are two other companies that began under the guidance of The Forge, but have since established themselves independently, Paschal said.
He said a year to eighteen months is the expected time for a business to grow to independence. New members sign a one-year lease.
“At one year, we’re going to sit down and evaluate where they are and what else we can do to help them along,” said Paschal.
He said the cap for membership in The Forge is two years, but it’s not a strict deadline.
The primary purpose of The Forge is to attract and retain young professionals in Tulsa, and to create the jobs that make the area an attractive place to live.
“What we’re looking for is primary job creators,” said Paschal.
For this reason, he said, they generally are not looking for tenants who are trying to set up law offices, accounting firms, or other support professions, but companies that will retain the services of those kinds of secondary industries.
Another qualification for membership, he said, is to be just starting out.
“There have been some companies that have applied that were too far along — they just wanted discounted office space,” said Paschal.
Their newest tenant is Bradford Technology Services, founded by Gina Bradford.
The Forge is currently looking for additional tenants to join Bradford and others in the new space. There are currently five tenant openings, as well as openings for co-working space.
“With the new space, we have plenty of room. We hope more entrepreneurs will take advantage of all the great resources we’ve combined here,” Paschal said. «