Highlighting Rural Startup Communities: Ada Entrepreneurial Summit 2019 Recap

The second annual Ada Entrepreneurial Summit was held in Ada, Oklahoma, on March 28-29, 2019. The theme of this year’s summit was “Building Rural Startup Ecosystems” with the goal to highlight and discuss the various challenges and advantages of rural startup communities. The summit kicked off on the afternoon of March 28th with a brainstorming session and opening party held at The Grandview. This was followed by an action-packed day at the Chickasaw Business and Conference Center featuring several expert speakers and panelists in the field of entrepreneurship ecosystem building from around the state.

The brainstorming session/workshop was held prior to the main event to convene local entrepreneurs, service providers, and community members. Ada Jobs Foundation staff James Eldridge and Dia Ghosh facilitated the workshop by dividing up the attendees into small groups of 4-8 people. Each group was then assigned different questions to brainstorm and be ready to present a summary of their conversations. The list of questions was developed with the intent to gather how supportive the community is of supporting new businesses and what kinds of programs or services would be beneficial for local entrepreneurs moving forward. By the end of the brainstorming session, we identified four distinct initiatives that could help Ada better support local entrepreneurs. These include – 1. Regular meetups, 2. Entrepreneurship Hub/Coworking space, 3. Finance – Access to Capital, 4. Building a Culture of Entrepreneurship. Please download the full notes from the session HERE.

The day of the summit started with an energetic presentation by Marika McHenry, founder of Rawkstar Café. Marika shared her journey as an entrepreneur coming from L.A. to Ada, and how she loves to collaborate with other local businesses in the community.  Collaboration was a key concept at the summit. We heard StitchCrew founder Erika Lucas say – “Nobody Builds Companies Alone”. This point was further expanded on by lunch keynote speaker Cecilia Wessinger, ESHIP Community Activator with the Kauffman Foundation. Cecilia shared that out of a 1,000 people in a community, only 1 becomes an entrepreneur. But that 1 entrepreneur needs the support of the other 999 people in order to succeed.

Building on several conversations held at the brainstorming session about ‘access to capital for entrepreneurs’, long-time venture capital expert Kevin Moore with Spur Capital Partners presented on finance at the summit. Besides learning cool finance terms, like unicorns and dragons, Kevin gave us great insight on what it takes for a community to start an angel investment group. It is a widely known fact that finance is one of the greatest barriers to starting a business, therefore, this on-going conversation about how we as a community can develop a finance ecosystem that supports startups and innovative ideas is crucial.

Another highlight was a panel discussion featuring Darcy Wilborn with Innovation to Enterprise, Connor Cox with the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology, and Tom Wavering with the Tom Love Innovation Hub (pictured above). These three entities in addition to the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and the New Product Development Center represent the Oklahoma Innovation Ecosystem. The panel moderated by James Eldridge, was an action-packed 30-minute session that addressed questions ranging from what has been the biggest successes for the OK Innovation Ecosystem to how we can better connect metro and rural areas within the innovation area.

Other key highlights from Summit included a fun fireside chat with local entrepreneurs, Shawn Duffy with Lovera’s Handcrafted Foods and Collin Quinn Low founder of WOGO fashion apparel. Kicking off the fireside chat Shawn, aka the ‘cheese guy’, said that his best advice for new entrepreneurs is that ‘If you are starting a business and you are not ready to go all in, you might as well go all out real quick’. When addressing the question  “How can this group (pointing to the audience) of entrepreneurial ecosystem builders help you as an entrepreneur?”, Collin shared that it is in-fact very simple, help us share our story. He also emphasized that entrepreneurial events in the community, like this Summit and the Big Pitch competition (WOGO was the winner of the first Big Pitch Ada competition in 2018), help to highlight entrepreneurs and provide them a platform to connect with ecosystem builders.

Following the fireside chat, we heard an informative presentation on How to Get Your Business Found on Google by Maria Duron, Grow with Google speaker. We learned that Google has several tools for businesses to be found on Google search for free, and if you have a business, but are not on Google yet, you need to soon!

We ended the day by collaborating  to connect all the pieces of a puzzle art-piece (see picture below) that represented the theme of the summit well. We felt inspired as entrepreneurial ecosystem builders to play our role in supporting local entrepreneurs and engaging ourselves in conversations on how to build a thriving startup culture in our community where ideas can be shared, and innovation can prosper.

Let’s Grow Ada Together