Thunder VP sees tech accelerator as a slam dunk

Published: Friday, January 26, 2018 By: Sarah Terry-Cobo Source: The Journal Record

Erika Lucas and the Oklahoma City Thunder are teaming up to help propel two dozen tech entrepreneurs this year.

The StitchCrew CEO and Thunder sales and marketing senior vice president Brian Byrnes announced on Thursday the Thunder LaunchPad, an accelerator program for tech startup firms. The model combines some elements of a shared working space and a business incubator but is tailored to the specific need of those in the technology industry. Byrnes said one of the toughest challenges was figuring out how to launch a new small business.

Participants, or company founders, as she calls them, will have a 12-week crash course to learn business fundamentals, to draft contract terms for raising money, to work with intellectual property attorneys, to build or improve their websites and to advance their company to the next phase, wherever that may be. Lucas said what is different about the way the Thunder LaunchPad is designed is that the group of 12 founders will be collaborating and learning from one another.

“It’s intimidating to go to an executive for advice, especially if you’re not sure if you’ll be open and working in the next month,” Lucas said. “When you’re working with a peer, you’re learning how to be scrappy. You can ask, ‘How did you build your website?’ and ‘What did you pay for that service provider?'”

A peer-to-peer environment encourages collaboration and a supportive community. It also helps entrepreneurs to expand their own network.

Byrnes and Lucas came up with the idea about a year ago. They were looking for a way to facilitate tech-based firms and cultivate an attitude that would support those in that niche industry, she said. They traveled around the country to visit other accelerator programs in Austin; Boulder, Colorado; and Kansas City.

There are plenty of resources in the state to help people start small businesses. And there are plenty of investors who are interested in expanding into industries other than real estate and oil and gas.

But entrepreneurs in technology have different needs, and there isn’t enough infrastructure to support it, she said. A new tech firm is more likely to stay rooted in Oklahoma if the money is local and there is a community that supports them.

Byrnes said the Thunder was interested in backing the LaunchPad as a way to invest in the community. It provides a tangible business focus that’s different than other community programs, like childhood literacy and health and wellness.

So the basketball franchise is leasing about 2,200 square feet of space in the Monterey Building at 309 NW 13th St. It is one of several tenants in the building, which features an open-office design. Within 30 days it will be fully furnished, with spaces for participants to work and to meet.

Interested entrepreneurs can apply to the program online. The deadline for

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