Tulsa, Oklahoma is rapidly emerging as a dynamic hub for forward-thinking startups and entrepreneurial ventures. With a business-friendly climate, low cost of living, and access to top-tier talent, Tulsa provides an optimal setting for startups to flourish.
The city government has implemented several pro-business policies and regulations, including streamlined permitting processes and incentives for companies that invest in the local economy. With relatively low taxes and an abundance of talented graduates from local universities and colleges, Tulsa is a magnet for entrepreneurs.
My podcast, Startup Hustle, highlights startups in a different city each month. Tulsa may not be among the first places that come to mind when thinking about tech hotbeds in the United States. But these 11 exceptional companies are indicative of the city’s entrepreneurial climate.
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A survey conducted in 2020 found that 78 percent of respondents reported experiencing at least one symptom of work-related stress. The most prevalent are irritability, fatigue, and feeling overwhelmed. Paul Slater and Ryan Tubbs wanted to help people find relief by founding Billion Minds.
Billion Minds is a remote work skills development platform that aims to reduce work stress and make work engaging again. The software focuses on helping people develop skills to more effectively manage a work-life balance by using experiential learning.
While it’s widely recognized that there’s a significant shortage of talent in the IT industry, particularly in software development, it’s worth noting that talent wars are being waged across all sectors, including SBA lending. Shatterbox, led by CEO Dustin Baker and chief learning officer Alan Faulk, has taken up the challenge of training a new generation of professionals to bridge this gap.
Shatterbox recruits and trains talent through a 1-year apprenticeship program, which offers benefits in terms of hiring and learning for SBA lenders. Lenders also get a comprehensive toolkit to mentor their apprentices effectively throughout the year.
The pandemic has had an adverse impact on children’s education. Students in the U.S. will likely experience five to nine months of learning loss on average. They need help catching up, and Boddle Learning can give it to them.
Clarence Tan and Edna Martinson created this online educational platform that provides interactive and gamified learning experiences for K-6 students. It offers a range of educational games and activities covering various subjects, including math, reading, and language arts. On the strength of $5.6 million raised in multiple funding rounds from nine investors, it’s been used in more than 140,000 U.S. classrooms.
There are only 32 Native American banks or credit unions in the U.S., which represents less than 1 percent of all banks in the country. Native Americans are more likely to be credit invisible and travel further to access bank branches, which hinders their financial inclusion. Totem wants to change that.
Co-founder/CEO Amber Buker, an enrolled member of the Choctaw Nation, and co-founder/CTO Richard Chance, a member of the Cherokee Nation, created Totem, the only digital bank founded and funded by Native Americans. A portion of the merchant fees received from every transaction made with a debit card is shared with tribal partners. Totem has raised $2.4 million in two funding rounds.
The government introduced the A2P 10DLC (Application-to-Person 10-Digit Long Code) standard to combat unwanted text messages, unsolicited marketing offers, and other spam. But compliance can be challenging for many small businesses. Co-founder/CEO Martin Langelo Lien and co-founder/head of growth Matt Morfopoulos launched Volt, an easy-to-use dashboard that allows users to monitor their message health and proactively address any issues.
It has integrated 10DLC checks that ensure messages are delivered reliably, helping users avoid penalties and disruptions to their service. On average, businesses using Volt achieve a delivery rate of 97 percent and an engagement rate of 52 percent. The company has raised $3.3 million in three funding rounds.
In the U.S., medication non-adherence leads to preventable hospitalizations and deaths and costs about $500 billion in healthcare spend every year. PatchRx, the brainchild of CEO Andrew Aertker and Gavin Buchanan, is a data-driven technology platform that provides remote therapeutic management for healthcare providers and patients. It has raised $1.6 million in three funding rounds.
It uses a combination of hardware, software, and data analytics to help patients adhere to their medication schedules and track their health progress. The platform’s smart pill bottle cap connects to a patient-facing mobile app, and the dispenser can be loaded with up to 90 days of medication. The app, which rewards patients for adherence, has provider-level compatibility, enabling physicians and care providers nationwide to improve patient health outcomes.
FanSub is the first all-in-one platform for managing young and/or unknown performance artists’ booking, marketing, and live experiences. The interactive platform allows users to create, ticket, and livestream experiences anywhere from the world’s most iconic venues to a home studio.
Founded by CEO Chris Davis and CTO Brandon King, FanSub returns 100 percent of ticket revenue to the creator or organizer. The event or gig can be livestreamed from anywhere in the world. The startup recently raised $2 million in a pre-seed round.
Drones are often associated with providing stunning aerial views. However, commercial drones have proven to be remarkably versatile tools, serving a multitude of purposes such as conducting surveys of land and water, aiding search and rescue efforts, and streamlining inspection and maintenance processes.
AirWise Solutions simplifies commercial drones’ complex needs, which include utilizing different software for flight planning, image and data processing, and navigation. Co-founder/CTO Josh O’Leary and co-founder/CEO Zac Clark are helping make drone use in the field effective and easy. The company’s hardware includes a reliable hexacopter design and hot-swappable cameras with RTK/PPK GPS for enhanced precision.
Another social media company? Yes, but this one is a bit more, let’s say professional. NGHBR enables in-person, real-time networking.
CEO Brandon J. McGill launched this online social platform and mobile app intended to allow users to find out more about the people around them in real time. Its geo-specific community building lets users find and connect people with different skill sets that may benefit their business.
Solace Vision is a text-to-3D creation tool powered by AI and natural language. The mission is to make 3D creation more accessible while also giving existing modelers more power to create.
Co-founders Shawn Gaetano and William Brandes have created natural language tools that can open the door to modeling for many people who would never otherwise model. Users can simply describe what 3D model they want to create through text, and the software creates it automatically. It also provides default actions to modify the finished model.
Everyone hates wasting time in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. And if you have to go to the emergency room, the situation is even worse. The average wait time for patients is two hours. Get me Arriv, stat!
Arriv is a digital platform designed for on-demand healthcare facilities, developed under founder/CEO Alex Zubey. It offers the highest converting online check-in solution in the healthcare industry and gives patients the option to select check-in times during low-traffic periods. During busy surges, patients who checked in through Arriv knew they had long wait times, reducing the frustration caused by poor expectation setting.
Payfactory is a fintech payment facilitator for software platforms. It meets the growing demand for immediate merchant approval, next-day funding, and split payments through its payment facilitation (PayFac) model. The platform allows businesses to integrate payment acceptance online, in person, or over the phone effortlessly. It also enables software vendors to own the merchant experience and minimize risk.
CEO Ruston Miles and co-founder/head of technology Justin Stanley created Payfactory to serve software companies seeking the benefits of PayFac and a higher level of security, service, and speed. Previously, these benefits were only available at high cost and significant risk. Payfactory shares revenue with platforms and offers competitive rates for the businesses with $0 monthly-fee options.
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Taking your company overseas doesn’t come without its challenges. One founder explains the art of scaling a business abroad–and how to avoid common pitfalls.
With the right preparation, U.S. businesses can enjoy a number of benefits from going global.
Scaling abroad has the potential to increase a company’s market reach and revenue, give it access to a new pool of talent, and diversify its assets. In a 2021 survey of companies in the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany by the international employment firm INS Global, 42 percent of the businesses considered their best growth opportunities to be outside of their domestic market.
Gerardo Nasser, founder and CEO of Grupo Shogua, started planning his company’s expansion after the onset of the pandemic. Although his Mexico City-based company, which operates food and beverage, retail, and convenience stores in airports, resumed business shortly after the Mexican government lifted its two-month quarantine restrictions, Nasser started to see the risk of operating in only one country if that economy experienced a downturn.
On top of that, Grupo Shogua had already saturated the Mexican market. In 2007, its brands began to enter the nine most important international airports in Mexico, Nasser says, and there were no others that were large enough to pursue. With over 900 employees and 90 stores, Nasser knew it was time for Grupo Shogua to go abroad.
For the past three years, the team at Grupo Shogua has been researching and planning the company’s international expansion. It’s setting up shop in major airports in Panama, Colombia, and Brazil, and expects to be operating in Panama by the end of 2023. After overcoming a number of challenges along the way, Nasser has garnered advice for other businesses looking to expand internationally.
Research the barriers to entry
When Nasser and his team started searching for countries to enter, they researched the culture, language, and laws of their potential options. The team decided to expand to South American countries because they were most culturally similar to Mexico.
It’s important to identify an available market and cultural match for your business in a new country, but Nasser says you can’t forget to research the barriers to entry like legal or technical complications. Commercial space in airports is limited, creating an inherent barrier for Grupo Shogua brands to enter them in new countries. ”There’s a lot of politics and lobbying around it,” Nasser says. “Big companies all want a piece of these spots in airports.”
Nasser and his team researched the political and lobbying processes in their target countries and came prepared to show their added value, like support for renovations and willingness to work with smaller companies.
Send a hiring team who believes in your vision
One of the most difficult parts of international expansion, Nasser says, is finding trusted talent in the new countries. Initially, the Grupo Shogua team considered hiring and training remotely, but Nasser quickly realized it would be impossible to get new employees to understand their culture, mission, and vision without being there in person.
So Nasser sent a team of Grupo Shogua higher-ups to recruit and train talent in the new countries for three to six months, depending on the size of the new team. Nasser says after years of believing in the company’s vision and having a say in the business, the directors were willing to travel without much incentive. “It’s not something that motivates just me. It also motivates my team. They want to grow with the company,” he says. “They share this vision, and they want to do it as well.”
Show up and build relationships
You’ll face new competition abroad, and Nasser says his international competitors weren’t happy about his arrival, encouraging lawyers and lobbying groups not to work with him.
So, Nasser says he worked to build up his company’s reputation. He says he made plenty of visits to the new countries over the past two years and went “knocking on doors” of commercial offices, lawyers, and other people involved with the airport sector. “You have to show yourself. You have to be there,” he says. “You have to be trustable for them to understand you’re here to do things right.”
He advises business owners to make sure their company is well-established at home with an experienced team and stable operations, because they’ll need to travel to new markets often to create bonds and earn a reliable reputation.