Live Podcast and Networking at Arbuckle Craft Coffee

By: Sunnie Dawn Baker

How do you build a successful community of entrepreneurs and innovators? How do you bring people together when so much of our lives has been moved to the virtual realm? This is one of the challenges that faces Ashia Todd, Startup Community Manager for the Ada Jobs Foundation. As one of the new Build to Scale hires, Todd is tasked with bringing people together and building a network and community of entrepreneurs, innovators, educators, and other stakeholders in the area. However, Todd came up with an idea that can bridge the gap between the in-person and the virtual world: a live podcast series with networking at local coffee shops.

The inaugural episode and event happened at Arbuckle Craft Coffee on the morning of February 7th. Jake Cantrell, a former tech entrepreneur and the current Investment Associate with the Ada Jobs Foundation, interviewed Andrew Long, founder of Long MSP and winner of the 2023 Big Pitch competition. They sat at a table in the coffee shop, laptop ready to record and a microphone ready to pick up the conversation. The coffee shop was bustling with conversation as Cantrell interviewed Long about the joys and challenges of being a tech entrepreneur. After the initial part of the interview, it turned into a panel discussion with Jim Eldridge, CEO of the Ada Jobs Foundation joining the conversation. In between Cantrell’s expertise in technology and Eldridge’s expertise in entrepreneurship and economic development, the conversation was able to embody and express the overall goals of the Build to Scale initiative.

In 2021, the Ada Jobs Foundation was awarded the Build to Scale grant from the Economic Development Administration in order to support and encourage scalable tech startups in rural Southern Oklahoma. The grant extends beyond the Ada area into ten southern counties: Pontotoc, Johnston, Garvin, Coal, Atoka, Bryan, Murray, Carter, Love, and Marshall. This live podcast series is one of many tools that the Ada Jobs Foundation is using in order to achieve their goals. Studies have shown that scalable tech startups are an excellent economic development strategy that can help reinvigorate the economies of rural America. They produce quality, high wage jobs, while investing in their local communities. Not only are people in the tech fields directly affected by these opportunities, but so are others. These new companies need graphic designers, accountants, and lawyers, just to name a few. The people who come here, or stay here, to fill these positions will need housing, medical care, and places to gather and relax. Scalable tech startups would be a net positive for our community.

However, in order to succeed in this initiative, it is necessary to bring the community together, connecting all of the stakeholders including, but not limited to, entrepreneurs, innovators, educators, and investors. While Ada, and many other communities within the ten county program area, have wonderful local institutions, many of these organizations, innovators, and entrepreneurs do not have a steady cadence of events to join in non-metropolitan regions. These networking events are a way for those of us in rural areas to come together on a regular basis to share their own unique experiences and expertise. Adding the live podcast as a part of the event gives people a chance to meet the guest in a warm and inviting space while also being a part of a discussion on entrepreneurship and innovation. Also, because it is in a podcast format, people who are not able to come in person can still listen to it later and feel like they are a part of the discourse.

Because the Build to Scale grant award focuses programs to be delivered to an area beyond Ada, these monthly live podcast and networking events will be hosted at areas throughout the region. Todd decided to choose local coffee shops because they are bustling and inviting places that are often at the heart of a community. While some people might just get a coffee to go, coffee shops have become one of the main places that people will utilize as co-working spaces. The next event will be held in Atoka and the following month it will be back in Ada. Continuing on from there, every month the location will change, featuring different entrepreneurs and innovators, trying to engage the communities throughout the Build to Scale service area.

It is the hope of Todd and the Ada Jobs Foundation that as awareness grows regarding these live podcast and networking events, that more people will attend and be engaged with this effort. Todd says, “I hope to use these events to bring awareness and create a base network for us to host bigger and better events in the future, whether we engage people in person or through the podcast.” In order to build a strong community that can support scalable tech startups, we need to break down the silos and communicate with one another and these events are one way to help make that happen. What better way to do it than having a nice cup of coffee, talking with others who want to see the community grow, and learning a little about entrepreneurship and innovation in the process? For more information about future events, sign up for our newsletter HERE!

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