The mission of Build in Tulsa, says managing director Ashli Sims, is to “close the racial wealth gap in America by catalyzing the creation of multi-generational Black wealth through tech and entrepreneurship. We are committed to providing opportunities for minority entrepreneurs who have historically been denied resources and funding.”
The company was conceptualized in late 2020, “on the eve of the 100-year commemoration of the 1912 Tulsa Race Massacre,” says Sims. “At the turn of the century, Tulsa was the epicenter of Black wealth, with more Black millionaires than any other place in the country. This vision began Build in Tulsa operations in summer 2021.”
Just two years later, Build in Tulsa’s community includes 361 entrepreneurs, with $7.3 million invested in early-stage start-ups, and the facilitation of almost 5,000 hours of training and coaching. The project provides numerous services including training and workshops to get founders accelerator-ready, one-on-one business coaching, mentoring, networking and the facilitation of connections to a spectrum of capital sources.
“Build in Tulsa is also addressing some of the barriers that many Black entrepreneurs face by providing free co-working spaces, cost of living assistance, funding for technology and other aid,” says Sims. “Some of our most popular programs include BUILD UP, a tech start-up school that teaches entrepreneurs, or future entrepreneurs, the fundamentals of starting a business over eight weeks. Over the course of three BUILD UP programs, Build in Tulsa has trained approximately 139 entrepreneurs.”
The program is also working to increase representation of women in entrepreneurship and in the tech field in general. Since 2021, Build in Tulsa has hosted “Female Founders Pitch Night” events, awarding almost $113,000 to 47 female founders. As a pitch competition, the event includes ten to 12 hours of training, a workshop on Business Model Canvas, practice sessions and one-on-one coaching.
“Build in Tulsa hosts ‘Future CEO Camp,’ which is a week-long free summer camp that teaches middle and high school students the basics of entrepreneurship, culminating in a pitch competition featuring cash prizes,” Sims adds.
Oklahomans looking to get involved can visit Build in Tulsa’s website, buildintulsa.com, and sign up for the newsletter.
“That will keep you up to date on all Build in Tulsa activities, and all the opportunities to take advantage of programming,” says Sims. “We rely on the generous support of donors to keep our programming free.”
Build in Tulsa also looks for those who possess business expertise and are willing to serve as mentors.
Empowering Black Entrepreneurs
A life-long Tulsan, Ashli Sims spent 10 years in local television news, in addition to serving as an advocate for vulnerable children and as a nonprofit leader.
“At the heart of our work is a network of business accelerators that pair skills development, networking and funding to elevate Black entrepreneurs,” she says. “We partner with four accelerators, including ACT Tulsa, W.E. Build, Build in Tulsa Techstars and Lightship
Foundation, designed to meet underrepresented Black and Brown entrepreneurs wherever they are in their business
Photo credit and caption: The Future CEO camp is Build in Tulsa’s free, week-long summer camp for middle and high schoolers. Students learn the fundamentals of starting a business, and the event culminates with a pitch competition featuring $10,000 in cash prizes. Photo courtesy Build in Tulsa