Land Of Opportunity

When Danny Maloney, co-founder and CEO of Oklahoma City-based Pinleague, was trying to decide where to live and establish his company headquarters, he had several factors to consider. The New York City-born and south Florida-raised Maloney had worked primarily in Silicon Valley and New York, both areas that might seem more natural fits for a tech start-up. But when his wife, who grew up in Oklahoma City and has family there, finished her MBA at Yale last year, the couple chose the city as the headquarters for Pinleague, a company that helps other brands market themselves on Pinterest.

“My wife had a great career opportunity here, and it seemed like it would be a favorable market for us to grow a business in,” says Maloney. “Plus we just liked the quality of living and liked what we saw going on in the city in terms of new restaurants popping up and a growing music scene and the Thunder and everything else. So we just weighed all the factors and decided to move to OKC after she graduated.”

There is a support structure in place in Oklahoma that is in a constant state of evolution when it comes to addressing the needs of entrepreneurs, in whatever stage their businesses may be, and this is especially true for startups. A person launching a business endeavor will find no shortage of valuable tools to assist in growth and lessen the impact of some of the speed bumps that a young entrepreneur might encounter. The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce-supported website, Source Link, is a good starting point for someone taking the first steps toward launching a company in northeast Oklahoma.

“Source Link is basically a one-stop shop,” says Heather Williams, executive director for Small Businesses at the Tulsa Chamber. “We can connect you with people that can help you with writing and creating a business plan, market research and how to develop and market your plan. We have over 70 resource partners in northeast Oklahoma that use that to advertise what they are doing for startups as well.”

Even if a budding entrepreneur isn’t sure what sort of business he or she wants to go into, there are resources available to help in getting started. Williams says she will typically refer someone who is taking the first steps toward launching a business to the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center.

“They have counselors that help you write and create a business plan, and they do market industry research that shows you if you’re going into an industry that is trending up or down; is it a growing industry or is it a dying industry?” explains Williams. “They also help you target the best place to locate your business.”

For those who aren’t ready to speak with a counselor, the Source Link website also includes an entrepreneur’s guide that has step-by-step instructions on how to write and create a business plan, and includes resources targeted at companies at various levels, from the start-up phase to different stages in growth. There is also a high-tech page to assist in finding funding for high-tech companies. But even with the seemingly unlimited resources that can be found online, many entrepreneurs have learned that there is nothing better than interaction with like-minded people to help make a successful business. 

Brian Paschal, executive director of The Forge, a small-business incubator program that sprung from Tulsa Young Professionals and provides resources for start-ups, foresees an Oklahoma where communities of smart entrepreneurs grow together.

“Our hope is that the Forge is a physical place that creates community, because entrepreneurs and start-up cultures seem to gravitate towards specific areas, whether Silicon Valley, Boulder or Austin,” says Paschal. “I think they do that for two reasons. One is there’s a culture where in Silicon Valley you say, ‘Okay I know what I’m going to get from the community,’ and we’re hoping to build that. The other thing you get from creating those clusters is a workforce. If you’re a start-up and you’re hiring we need to create a community where there’s a pool of really smart people in town that are interested in entrepreneurship you can go to and offer a job. Getting to that level starts with creating a community. We want a whole bunch of smart people under one roof in varying industries in various levels of their business.”

Entrepreneurs who are accepted at The Forge find an environment where they can share their experiences with others.  Businesses at The Forge learn together, and from various Tulsa-area business leaders in seminars and training The Forge provides. Dixie Agostino, one of the first entrepreneurs to take advantage of the program, calls her experience at The Forge the catalyst for her business’s success.

“The fact that you were in there with others who were in your same situation, you could help each other and talk to each other,” says Agostino, CEO of Switch Gear Recruiting, an agency that specializes in recruiting engineering and technical professionals. “There was a support network. And being affiliated with the chamber you are able to network and cut costs. We could’ve gotten an executive suite for a similar cost but the perks were pretty darn good.”

“It’s really easy to get focused on your company and solving your problems and sit at your desk all day and not talk to anybody,” says Dustin Curzon, founder of Narrable.com, a current Forge tenant, “But we’ve all made strides to get out and, like, walk down the hall and talk and say, ‘Hey, I’m working on this,’ or just hear about what’s going on. We celebrate victories together and also support each other when it’s tough.”

The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and i2E offer similar programs to assist start-ups. State and local leaders have identified the tech community as an important component toward continued economic advancement.

“Oklahoma has always been entrepreneurial,” says Josh O’Brien director of Entrepreneurial Development at i2E. “But now services, resources and opportunities exist in a variety of industries. People don’t just hear about possibilities; they can see them.”

Moving forward, the support systems and programs are advancing along with the technology that start-ups are bringing to Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth recently teamed up with The Forge to launch The Mine, a program based on similar ones in Norman, that focuses on the idea of social entrepreneurship.

“The Mine was really created to be a service to the Tulsa community,” explains Taylor Potter, CCEW Tulsa Fellow. “We’re taking the methodology we use in our CCEW internship program and applying it to the fellows that come through The Mine.”

Mine participants will create two teams, which will receive seed money to launch entrepreneurial projects designed to benefit the Tulsa area. But across the state, there is a push to continue developing Oklahoma into a place where entrepreneurs want to start their businesses.

“Apart from just building a company, we and a number of other tech start-ups in the area have a pretty strong mission of wanting to build the eco-system as a whole so that many more tech start-ups can thrive over the coming years,” says Pinleague’s Maloney.

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