The national nonprofit Venture for America has begun searching for start-up companies to partner with in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.
The organization is seeking businesses in Oklahoma City and Tulsa that are interested in interviewing and hiring members of its 2014 class.
Mike Tarullo, Venture for America’s vice president of corporate development, recently visited Oklahoma City and Tulsa to meet with local entrepreneurs and start-up founders. The George Kaiser Family Foundation and the Stephenson Family Foundation helped sponsor the trips.
Tarullo visited Oklahoma to gauge interest from local companies in Venture for America’s recruiting services and also to see if there is enough momentum in the local start-up community to support sending five to seven Venture for America fellows to the cities.
“One of the things that stood out to me is the cohesiveness of the communities in OKC and Tulsa,” Tarullo said. “We were impressed how everyone knew each other and knew what was going on with each others’ companies.”
The Venture for America program recruits skilled recent graduates with entrepreneurial aspirations to work for two years at emerging start-ups and early-stage companies in lower-cost cities. Venture for America does not charge companies to participate in the program. The organization is a nonprofit, and its recruiting services are funded by charitable donations and grants.
One of the program’s goals is to help start-up companies outside traditional hotbeds of development, such as California’s Silicon Valley, to recruit talent to grow their businesses, Tarullo said.
“Our tendency is toward cities with emerging entrepreneurial communities — not the Valley, not New York, not Austin,” he said. “There is great stuff going on in the rest of the country that we are trying to help develop.”
It can be challenging for start-up companies to recruit the talent they need, particularly in Oklahoma City, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, said Danny Maloney, CEO and founder of the Oklahoma start-up Tailwind. Tailwind has developed marketing and analytics tools for the social media site Pinterest.
“I think that getting the talent is the hardest part of building any business. It’s a pretty tight job market and we need more talent to move into the market and continue to grow at the rate we have been growing,” he said. “From what I’ve heard at this point, there is more demand for workers than we have in the city.”
Maloney helped pique Venture for America’s interest in Oklahoma, and Tailwind’s Oklahoma City offices hosted a meet-and-greet event for local entrepreneurs to meet with the organization’s officials. About 20 Oklahoma City-based start-up companies participated — a strong showing, Maloney said.
The nonprofit hopes to recruit between 50 and 100 recent graduates to work with for two years at start-up companies across the country. Venture for America recruited fellows last year to work at start-up companies in eight U.S. cities, including Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Philadelphia and Providence, R.I.
The organization hopes to expand its reach into four additional cities for the 2014 program.