Tulsa, Inc.'s No. 47 Surge City, was once known as the oil and gas capital of the world. Today, T-Town, as locals like to call it, is gaining recognition as a friendly environment for a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Downtown Tulsa houses many of the community's new entrepreneurial enterprises. The Forge, a business incubator, co-working space. 36 Degrees North (named for Tulsa's latitudinal coordinate), and early-stage investment and business advisory firm i2E are all clustered within a 1.4-square-mile loop formed by Interstate 244 and Highway 75.
Roughly 3,500 students graduate each year from nearby Oklahoma State University. Many funnel into the city looking for work. Tulsa Remote--a program that lures workers to the city with the promise of $10,000 in grants, access to co-working spaces, and networking opportunities--brought more than 100 transplants to town in its first year. Another 250 are expected in 2020.
Funding for Tulsa-based startups lags behind that in other areas, says Elizabeth Frame Ellison, CEO of the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation. "We're an oil and gas state--people are so used to taking risks and digging a hole in the ground without knowing what's going to be there," Ellison says. "But that's not translating to investing in startups." In 2019, there have been only five VC deals totaling $6 million, according to research company PitchBook.
Companies to Watch
In 2015, Stephanie Conduff launched Leche Lounge, which makes a line of portable lactation suites and has partnered with Nike and Rent the Runway.
Verinovum, which launched in 2014 and has raised $12 million, organizes patient data for health care providers and bill payers.
Where to Talk Shop
When founders need a break from brainstorming, they head to Chimera --a one-minute walk from 36 Degrees North--for coffee and the restaurant's popular tacos. Those in search of something stronger head to Hodges Bend, a café that, in the evenings, turns into a speakeasy.
Midstream oil and gas company SemGroup to Energy Transfer, for about $5.1 billion (2019)
$5 million: The Zero Card (employee benefits program)
As COO of the Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, Meredith Peebles is "responsible for connecting entrepreneurs and helping small-business owners," says Devon Laney, the CEO of 36 Degrees North. She was also instrumental in the launch of Mother Road, the city's first food hall, which features 21 culinary and retail outlets--an initiative developed by the foundation.
Malachi Blankenship, business development manager and venture adviser at i2E, also serves as the lead organizer for Tulsa's branch of 1 Million Cups. That program, which connects entrepreneurs and teaches skills such as pitching techniques, gets its name from the idea that founders network and problem-solve over many cups of coffee.