Oklahoma accelerator gets an assist from NBA team

Erica Lucas, Co-Founder of StitchCrew

StitchCrew is an Oklahoma City-based accelerator that offers a cohort twice a year to help startups get in the best shape to launch and grow their companies. It also happens to have a local NBA team as its partner. Fast Future spoke with Erika Lucas, co-founder and CEO about StitchCrew and its relationship with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Tell us about StitchCrew.

Lucas: We partner with organizations committed to building a more inclusive economy by designing programs that unlock the full potential of underserved entrepreneurs. Twice a year, we select up to 10 startups and help them get into the best shape possible to launch and grow their companies.

Every year, 20 startups go through an intensive 12-week program, which culminates on Demo Day, where we introduce the founders to an audience made up of investors, community stakeholders, and business leaders.

We launched about three years ago in 2018, and this is the 7th cohort we’ve done. So far, we’ve helped 70 companies through those three years, and we just keep on pushing.

The Thunder provides us with a beautiful space called the Thunder Launchpad. That’s where we run the cohort. We have a vast database of mentors we call on to come speak about a certain topic or coach the entrepreneurs on certain things during office hours.

How did the partnership with the Oklahoma City Thunder come about?

Lucas: We happened to know the Thunder executive team, and I worked with them back when I was an economic developer. Honestly, the relationship happened over coffee and having conversations about what we could do to make our economy more equitable and representative of our demographic. The Thunder wanted to do a collaborative space where the community could gather, ideate and do innovative things. Our heart obviously is with entrepreneurs, so we pitched them on the idea of hosting an accelerator program.

Ever since the Thunder established here, they’ve been more than a basketball team. They really have done a lot for the community, and they’re always trying to figure out ways they can give back.

Are these startups you work with in any particular vertical?

Lucas: No. That’s another thing our partnership has enabled us to do. We are industry agnostic, so it’s not like we just focus on sports or hospitality companies. We really open it up to any and all companies, as long as they are building something meaningful and something that can potentially scale exponentially.

Do you work exclusively with underserved entrepreneurs?

Lucas: We’re not exclusive to women or people of color at this date. However, we’ve been very intentional from day one. From the very beginning, we wanted that to be our narrative and our message. We still have a long way to go in recruiting and helping more people. Of the 70 companies we’ve served up to now, almost 70% have either been led by people of color or by women.

Do you have a stand-out success story?

Lucas: We’ve had a Latino entrepreneur that came through in our inaugural cohort. His company, Ocupath, is doing business with the Air Force and the Navy. He’s providing employee training solutions through virtual reality. We have another founder who got a distributorship for his product through Best Buy.

We’re not just tech-based. As long as you can make the argument that you could potentially scale to be a national company, we’re willing to help. One of our Black woman founders has a company called Good Girl Chocolate. She offers a vegan, sugar-free, dairy free — just-about-everything-free — chocolate. This chocolate has now been featured at the Grammys and at the Oscars in their gift bags for celebrities. She also received a grant from Beyonce, for the BeyGOOD grant program for Black entrepreneurs.

What is the program like?

Lucas: The program itself is 12 weeks long, and then we host demo day. Then after that, we stay in touch with the alumni network so we can check on their progress, what they’re doing and how we might be able to help further.

Does the program help with their pitches and the development of their ideas?

We divide our program into three phases: Phase one is focused on startup mechanics, like how to incorporate and so on. Phase two is more focused on growth, marketing and sales. Phase three is focused on fundraising, pitch decks and all of that.