No Small Feat

Startups receive support from multiple sources in Oklahoma.

Entrepreneurs who launch a small business in Oklahoma find that the amount of help they can receive is anything but small.

WeGoLook and Monscierge are two examples of Oklahoma startups that took advantage of the assistance offered, and they are now taking their industries by storm.

WeGoLook is a mobile online platform that dispatches more than 20,000 people to verify claims made by Internet sellers about assets or properties, and Monscierge is a technology solution that enables hotels to communicate more seamlessly with their guests.

Both benefited from i2E Inc., part of an OCAST (Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology) initiative aimed at connecting startup businesses in Oklahoma with sources of capital and other assistance.

“The climate for entrepreneurs and innovators in Oklahoma right now is exceptional,” says Scott Meacham, president and CEO for i2E. “We are seeing more and higher-quality deals over the last 12 months or so than we have ever seen. Oklahoma City has created that critical mass of place. In Tulsa, we see a good level of innovation, and they are getting to that point where the power of place fuels innovation and startups.”

Since its inception in 1998, i2E has helped literally hundreds of companies start and grow in Oklahoma. “This growth has occurred in various sectors and various locations across the state,” says Meacham. “This has traditionally been a low startup capital state, but we have been able to leverage over 20 times the level of capital coming in. The state primes the pump, and that has provided huge leverage. We are helping companies right now in aerospace ventures and in new battery technology for automobiles. We have just launched a Venture Assessment Program that lets new companies test whether or not there is a market for their product or idea. Getting to ‘no’ quicker is the goal.”

Of course, getting to “yes” is the ultimate goal for any entrepreneur, and that’s where 36degreesNorth in Tulsa comes in.

“We want to be the gathering place for entrepreneurs,” says Dustin Curzon, executive director of 36degreesNorth. “We want to be a front door to that community. We have mentors and advisors. We saw a need where we could come in and help connect entrepreneurs to valuable resources and remove redundancies. We can help people be more effective.”

A new home for 36degreesNorth is being built in 11,500 sq. ft. of space in the former Universal Ford Motor Co. building in the Brady Arts District in Tulsa. Upon its opening in January 2016, the space will offer seven conference rooms, 10 private offices and 48 desks available for rent.

Education and networking will be primary goals of this new hub for entrepreneurs, says Curzon. “Our goal is to host 500 events our first year. We want to have at least two per weekday,” he notes. “We have 36 partnering organizations. At least twice a week, we want to do workshops on site. People can come and learn about prototyping, accounting, branding, social media and making websites. We also plan to hold a regular speaker series.”

The end goal, he says, is economic development. “We intend to improve the quality of life in Tulsa through economic development,” Curzon says. “We will help entrepreneurs make connections in Tulsa, and we will put Oklahoma on the map nationally as a place for innovation.”

High Tech High on OKC

Danny Maloney, founder of Tailwind, says that is already happening. Maloney co-created the company that produces content management and planning tools that help its customers market and brand themselves on social media platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest.

“We moved to Oklahoma City in 2012 from Manhattan, New York,” he says. “We chose Oklahoma for two reasons: My wife had a great opportunity here, and her family was here.”

Tailwind now employs 20 people, most of whom work in Oklahoma City. “We now serve over 50,000 brands worldwide,” Maloney says. “The technology community here is growing very quickly. The local chamber has been incredibly helpful with introductions and recruiting opportunities. And i2E has been helpful, particularly with venture advisory and venture capital. They led the first investment round in our company. We helped launch OK Coders. It came together as a collaboration of the chamber and the University of Oklahoma. We created the first Developers Boot Camp in the state of Oklahoma. It is now going into its third year.”

Maloney says that as he looks back on his relocation to Oklahoma three years ago, “it seemed a lot scarier than it ended up being. I have learned that this whole community functions very well together. My advice to other entrepreneurs in other parts of the country is to join me and take the leap.”

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