Building Dreams: Inside Ada’s Entrepreneurship Accelerator Program

By: Sunnie Dawn Baker

After serving in the Navy for ten years and then six years with the Chickasaw Nation, Matt Stephens decided to go back to school, pursuing a degree in business administration with a focus on entrepreneurship. When he began his studies, he aimed to become an entrepreneur. However, when Stephens had an opportunity to become the Accelerator Manager for the Ada Jobs Foundation’s Conduit Initiative, he couldn’t pass up the chance. While he initially desired to start his own business, he felt excited about the chance to use the knowledge he had gained to help other people and the community at large.

As the Accelerator Manager, Stephens is tasked with creating programming to help people start their own businesses. He describes the program as, “An education, training, and mentorship system for relatively new or aspiring entrepreneurs.” The goal is to help entrepreneurs create new startups in the ten county region of Oklahoma that the Conduit Initiative serves through the Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale grant. The program aims to demystify the process of business creation while also helping to remove some of the barriers inherent in entrepreneurship. “Our goal,” Stephens says, “is to make entrepreneurship less intimidating, helping people build their knowledge base, and inspiring them to take the leap of faith to start their own businesses.”

The programming will begin on February 7th of this year and commences with a Business Idea Workshop. The core of this curriculum is essentially problem solving. Stephens says, “It requires a positive outlook and a solution-oriented mindset. Entrepreneurship is about finding solutions to problems in the world.” Anybody is welcome to participate in the workshop, whether they have, or don’t have, a business idea. This class doesn’t emphasize technical knowledge and jargon; instead, it provides participants with a clear understanding of how to identify opportunities in the world to establish new businesses or improve existing ones. Stephens will guide the participants through the Business Model Canvas, which is a nine-step process that helps future entrepreneurs think through some of critical issues associated with starting their own business. This process can be used for many different business ideas to allow people to decide which one could be most viable. While Stephens will guide the participants through these steps, the workshop primarily involves hands-on experience, enabling them to develop their ideas with the assistance of the Conduit staff. At the end of the session, everyone is encouraged to keep working on their ideas, reach out with any questions, and then come back to the next sessions, held in March and April.

Stephens will host a session on Customer Discovery following the initial workshop on developing business ideas. Stephens states the vital importance of customer discovery, “A good business knows who they are helping. Identifying all the potential customers should guide everything in the business. A good business never stops doing customer discovery.” When it comes to customer discovery, it is important to know if the target market is an individual or another business, but even within those categories it is important to break down the demographics as specifically as possible. A mom-and-pop shop has different needs than a factory; a college student has different needs than a homemaker or a child or a retiree. Thinking through these differences can determine how a product looks, how it is priced, where it is sold, and how it is marketed, among many other issues.

These workshops are designed to build on one another, guiding the participants through the process of business creation. After they come up with their idea and discern their customer base, they will use this knowledge to develop a strategy around marketing and branding. There isn’t a single, simple way to approach this crucial aspect of business. The entrepreneur would create a strategy based on the specific customer they want to engage. Social media might work best for some businesses but print advertisement might work better for others. To separate this new venture from the competition, selling the idea of a product or service through well thought out branding becomes key to success.

In addition to the workshops developed in the accelerator program, The entire Conduit staff offers resources to entrepreneurs they might not be able to access otherwise. Stephens designs and runs the educational component through hands-on workshops, but Jake Cantrell, the Investment Associate, works to help entrepreneurs connect with interested investors. Ashia Todd, the Startup Community Manager, brings her marketing expertise to the Conduit while also planning networking events to engage the community and connect entrepreneurs to necessary contacts. Sunnie Dawn Baker, the Ecosystem Digital Content Manager, is the storyteller of the Conduit Initiative. She writes articles about entrepreneurs and innovation and can help the participants in the accelerator program tell their own story. Together, they constitute a team that supports, encourages, and inspires budding entrepreneurs to realize their vision. For more information about these exciting upcoming events, follow the Ada Jobs Foundation social media, sign up for the newsletter, or contact Matt Stephens at

Sign up to receive more news from the Ada Jobs Foundation HERE!

Let’s Grow Ada Together