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Creative Oklahoma Helping Startups in its MIT-Backed Mentoring Program

Article from Velocity – Greater Oklahoma City Chamber (JULY 30, 2019)

Anyone’s who’s done it can tell you – launching and growing a successful business from the seed of an idea is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. It’s stressful. And it’s lonely a lot of the times.

Yet, the ability of the Oklahoma economy to expand and diversify rests squarely on the state getting this formula right. We need locally grown companies to thrive here.

Doug Sorocco of Dunlap Codding knows this all too well, which is why he and several other key members of the Oklahoma City entrepreneur-support community have worked hard to launch a new kind of business mentoring program, backed by Creative Oklahoma.

Creative Oklahoma is a statewide non-profit organization advancing Oklahoma’s economy through projects and collaborative ventures that help develop a more entrepreneurial and vibrant economy and improved life quality for all Oklahomans. The mission is to develop, promote and celebrate Oklahoma’s creative thinking and innovation in education, commerce and culture.

Sorocco and Craig Shimasaki of Moleculera Labs, both successful entrepreneurs in their own right, chair a robust group of committed innovation and start-up specialists who have been working with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Venture Mentoring Service to launch the Oklahoma Entrepreneur Mentoring Program (OKEMP). OKEMP is a member of the MIT VMS network.

Oklahoma Entrepreneur Mentoring Program Logo

OKEMP pairs mentors who have senior-level experience with promising entrepreneurs who each have a unique idea around which they want to grow a business.

Oklahoma City has a number of entrepreneur support programs, Sorocco said, but none like this.

“There are those efforts that focus specifically on the start-ups that will sell at a high multiple in three to five years, and then there are those that are short-term accelerators or incubators and co-working spaces, all of which play important roles. But what we are filling is the gap in the middle.”

OKEMP, he explained, targets entrepreneurs in various stages who have a great concept and can benefit from a longer term, one-on-one senior mentoring team around them.

OKEMP’s steering committee recently selected five entrepreneurs to be part of their first round of mentees. The committee members are Doug Sorocco, Dunlap Codding, chair; Craig Shimasaki, Moleculera, co-chair; Rex Smitherman, i2E; Evan Fay, innovation & entrepreneurship, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber; Justin Hazzard, Center of Business Development, Meridian Technology Center; and Susan Moring, Irani Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, University of Oklahoma.

The committee matched the entrepreneurs with volunteers who have their own success. The mentors have committed to meet with them under a strict code of ethics to assure objective, conflict-free and confidential advice, which is central to the MIT VMS model.

“We are looking for business executives from a variety of backgrounds to join us in helping these companies grow,” Sorocco said. “When you hear about what these entrepreneurs are trying to accomplish, it’s really very exciting to think we can make a huge difference in growing what might be the next Sonic or QuikTrip, both hugely successful innovators in their industries”

The inaugural entrepreneur line-up for this initial OKEMP mentoring round is comprised of a selection of start-ups whose ideas are impressive. Among them are Daniel France’s ittybam, a technology company which has created a new product called ACTOVOS that is poised to revolutionize the way child welfare specialists connect with potential foster parents, narrowing the time to place a child from three to five days to as little as three to five hours.

VeloCity sat down with France and his mentor, Stan Chase, to talk about the program, why they wanted to be involved, and what they’ve learned from each other so far. Watch the video to see the full interview.

Entrepreneur Rick Stiles, with his company, Itot, Inc., is also in the program. He developed a biometric trigger lock branded Trigger Mate® for handguns that is easy to use and quickly removed in emergency situations, which ultimately could lower the number of accidental gun-related deaths.

“OKEMP has been a great resource for me as a young small business,” France said of the program. “I was partnered with a great team of mentors that fit my goals and my personality. My team has the knowledge and experience to help take me to the levels I want to go. I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”

For additional information about becoming an OKEMP mentor, e-mail

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