New Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to fund future Tulsa startups
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New Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to fund future Tulsa startups

The city of Tulsa has been immersed in efforts to establish itself as a leader in the region for entrepreneurial activity, a goal that is getting a significant boost from a new endeavor in The University of Tulsa’s Collins College of Business.

On Wednesday, TU announced the establishment of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, with a goal of raising $10 million to help the campus community commercialize intellectual property, create new ventures and attain venture capital funding. The university aims to provide seed capital for the next 100 companies started by TU students, alumni and faculty.

The announcement came during TU’s monthly Friends of Finance luncheon, which supports scholarships for business students.

People standing together in front of a Tulsa backdrop
Left to right: Sean Kouplen, Kathy Taylor, Chris Wright and Scott Asbjornson

The center will be led by Chris Wright, a TU graduate and local entrepreneur with a history of creating new, technology-driven enterprises.

Kathy Taylor, dean of the Collins College of Business, said that 220 TU alumni have started more than 130 companies and raised more than $1.7 billion in venture capital funding during the past decade. “It’s an amazing achievement for these alumni founders and companies,” she said. “But going forward, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at TU is going to cultivate and seed-fund the next 100 start-ups.”

This focus stems from the fact that of the scores of companies started by TU alumni, only a few are based in Oklahoma. The center is on a mission to change that.

“For the next 100 companies that are started by TU students, faculty and alumni, we are going to be a part of that journey,” Wright said. “We will cultivate those businesses right here on TU’s campus. We’re going to seed-fund these entrepreneurial ventures and keep those businesses and jobs here in Tulsa and in Oklahoma to drive economic development.”

What’s more, there is an appetite among TU students for the school to take a more active role in encouraging startups. A recent survey of TU students revealed:

  • 81% believe TU needs a clear strategy for cultivating innovation
  • 78% believe TU needs to help students and faculty commercialize their innovations
  • 90% believe it’s important for TU to support student entrepreneurship
  • 80% believe it’s important for TU to have a dedicated center to support innovation and entrepreneurship

“The students were clear, the data is clear, and TU and the Collins College of Business are responding by launching the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” Taylor said.

Initiatives that are part of the center’s launch include:

  • Enhanced curriculum and opportunities – Students will have more opportunities to learn about entrepreneurship and venture capital and develop the skills they need to be successful.
  • Hurricane Venture Fund – Entrepreneurs will have access to funding through our partnership with 46VC, a Tulsa-based venture capital firm. A portion of the fund will also be carved for student-led venture investing.
  • Venture studio/accelerator – The center will develop an on-campus startup accelerator that will involve programming, hands-on support and access to mentorship and capital.
  • Nova Fellows Program – A one-on-one mentorship program to help founders grow their ideas into sustainable businesses.
  • Commercialization support – The center and Hurricane Ventures will work together to commercialize intellectual property and ideas developed within the TU ecosystem.

Wright has been a cofounder or investor in numerous Tulsa-based tech companies including Reliant, Medefy, MeIn3 and Plannly. He has been an adjunct faculty member at TU for more than 10 years, teaching courses in leadership, entrepreneurship, human resources, marketing and research methods.

Wright was a founding member of TYPros and The Forge – Tulsa’s first business incubator program – and has served on numerous professional and advisory boards throughout the Tulsa community.

The Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship already has secured $500,000 in pledges toward the $10 million goal with $250,000 apiece pledged by Scott Asbjornson (BSBA ’91, MBA ’95) and Regent Bank.

“Regent Bank is so excited to partner with The University of Tulsa on the new TU Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. We believe fully in the new venture and tech ecosystem that is exploding here in Tulsa, and we applaud President Brad Carson, Dean Kathy Taylor and Dr. Chris Wright for their vision and boldness to take this exciting step to bridge the gap between brilliant ideas and commercializing them to start up successful businesses. Regent Bank is honored to partner with TU to make this vision a reality, and we will do our part to help this exciting ecosystem continue to flourish,” said Sean Kouplen, bank chairman and CEO.

“When I served as secretary of commerce for the state of Oklahoma, we spent a lot of time studying our state’s most successful companies and what they had in common. With very few exceptions, we learned that these companies started in Oklahoma and decided to stay and grow here. I believe the key to Oklahoma’s economic future is ‘growing our own’ and Regent Bank wants to do our part to help make this happen,” he said.

Asbjornson will chair the center’s advisory board, which comprises a number of representatives from Tulsa’s business and civic communities as well as from the university. The board held its first meeting Wednesday afternoon. Asbjornson, former chief financial offer for Aaon Inc., said he is eager to get started preparing TU students to take the first step in starting their own businesses.

Friends of Finance Featured Speaker

Person sitting in a chair holding a microphone
Beverly Carmichael

Collins College of Business also hosted Beverly Carmichael, current Blue Apron board member and formerly of Southwest Airlines, Ticketmaster and Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, during the monthly Friends of Finance luncheon.

Carmichael, a Tulsa resident, attorney and corporate executive, detailed her rise to leadership positions in the business world as well as her views on how companies can be more successful by focusing on their workforce. Business leaders should be open to new ways their employees work, and to pay attention to new technologies, such as artificial intelligence, she said.

Carmichael also noted the strategic importance of committing to diversity, equity and inclusion, saying diverse workforces get better results. “Statistic after statistic say that the more diverse your organization is, the better it will perform,” she said. “That’s easy to understand because you get diverse perspectives you otherwise wouldn’t have.

“If you don’t have diversity, it’s like talking to yourself.”

Please join us for the next Executive Speaker Series event, which features Sid McAnnally, president and chief executive officer of ONE Gas, on March 22, 2023.