Tulsa entrepreneurship makes strides, but work remains for business creation
By Robert Evatt
Copyright © 2015 BH Media Group Holdings, Inc
Things have been going well for Two Guys Bow Ties — the Tulsa clothing accessory company has been featured on “Shark Tank” and uncrate.com, its products have been worn by celebrities seen at the MTV Music Awards and the NBA playoffs, and it’s grown to 12 employees.
But for all the company’s accomplishments and endorsements, Tim Paslay, co-founder of the company along with Adam Teague, said the 3-year-old company has received invaluable help from within Tulsa.
“The Tulsa community’s been very supportive to us,” he said.
Specifically, Paslay said Two Guys Bow Ties has received a grant from the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, support from the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation and a second-place win during the TCC StartUp Cup. The advice during the competition may have been worth more than the prize money.
“We didn’t know how valuable the coaching we’d get would be,” he said.
The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation is working toward creating many more businesses in Tulsa, and on Monday it released the second annual State of Entrepreneurship in Tulsa report at lobecktaylor.com.
The report was presented as part of the kickoff event for the Tulsa Global Entrepreneurship Week.
Elizabeth Frame Ellison, president and CEO of the foundation, said that while Tulsa’s only made fair progress toward the goals outlined last year in the first report, great progress has been made in cultivating a more collaborative atmosphere in Tulsa.
“We’ve gotten more people together and paying attention,” she said. “Now, we need entrepreneurs themselves to step in and move the needle.”
Next year will bring a number of new programs designed to help entrepreneurs, including the official opening of 36°North, a new entrepreneurship center in the Brady District that will provide conference rooms, offices and desks for new businesses.
The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, co-sponsor of 36°North along with the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Tulsa Regional Chamber, plans to fully support the new program. As a result, the foundation’s own entrepreneurship program, Cultivate918, will shift to become a more grass-roots and entrepreneur-led monthly meet-up, Ellison said. Many of Cultivate918’s meetings will now be held at 36°North.
“We really want 36°North to be the base camp for entrepreneurs,” she said.
But it won’t be the only option for business creators, especially those in the food industry. Last month, the foundation unveiled Kitchen 66, a food industry-oriented incubator designed to help people open a restaurant, manage a food truck, sell food products at a grocery store or open a catering company.
Ellison said the foundation believes it’s important to help those in the food industry, especially since those companies help the overall quality of life but have a particularly high failure rate.
“There are all kinds of entrepreneurs in the community, and we want to focus on all of them, not just the high-growth tech businesses,” she said.
The report noted the growth of various entrepreneurship programs have helped get people out of isolated silos and collaborating together.
However, Ellison said there’s still progress to be made. The report noted Tulsa has made the least progress in the area of government policy, and Ellison would like to see the development of legislative priorities, more economic and development discussion at the state capital and better information for entrepreneurs.
Ellison said she’s also concerned about a lack of promotion of entrepreneurial resources from established businesses.
“Even though Tulsa was built on the backs of entrepreneurs, there are a lot of traditionalists in the business world who might be fearful of taking a chance on a startup,” she said.
Ellison said she’d now like to see more collaboration with entrepreneurship organizations in other states or the nation as a whole to keep improving opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
However, she noted Tulsans in general are supportive toward budding businesses.
“Tulsans are very philanthropic and giving,” she said. “Everyone we’ve asked to help out in the StartUp Cup has been delighted to do so.”