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Get Connected

Tapping into community resources like the Tulsa Small Business Connection is essential to learning how to grow your small business.

Michele Chiappetta
March 28, 2020

Sometimes, a business needs a little support. Small businesses, in particular, face several challenges simply because of their size. Their owners and employees often wear many hats, and it takes time and effort to find answers to questions they have. Tapping into great community resources is essential to learning how to grow your small business.

Thankfully, Tulsa has many organizations that small-business owners can turn to when they need help. One of them is the Tulsa Small Business Connection, a program of the Tulsa Regional Chamber which supports small-business owners by providing the information and resources they need to succeed and grow. The Connection focuses on helping businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

The Connection was founded at the Small Business Council in 1994 to help support small businesses. “As we have grown, we have continued to develop innovative programs to meet the needs of small-business owners,” says Colleen Almeida Smith, executive director. “Our volunteers and advisory board members know what it means to own a small business, and they work to identify speakers and program opportunities that will help grow local businesses.”

This is fitting, as Tulsa has received a lot of praise and attention recently for its small business-friendly environment. “It is a testament to the innovative and collaborative nature of the local business community,” says Smith.

The Connection provides a lot of options for Tulsa’s entrepreneurs and business people. “We offer a variety of programs and events for small-business owners and their employees — everything from quarterly lunch and learns, called Business Behind the Scenes, to our Women Business Leader events,” says Smith. “We have touched thousands of businesses throughout the years. Currently, the Connection represents more than 1,800 small business members of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, but our reach includes many nonmembers too.”

The effects of such collaboration to grow small businesses is immense. Like any good brain trust or networking group, being able to tap into what others know is invaluable — especially when it comes to creating more opportunities for people of all groups. The Connection hosts monthly CEO Roundtables, which in effect provide a personal board of directors for owners and CEOs who want to discuss issues and successes with other business leaders who can help advise and support them.

Another popular offering of the Connection are the Women Business Leaders events, a highly popular segment of the Connection’s offerings.

“The Connection created a Women Business Leader committee a few years ago to address the needs of women in the workplace,” says Smith. “Many women were struggling to have their voices and ideas heard. Our events have brought in speakers such as Marilyn Ihloff of Ihloff Salons and Day Spas, Lynn Flinn of the Rowland Group, and Rena Cook from Vocal Authority to tell their stories, to offer advice and to help women identify their strengths.

“We also offer Lean In Together lunches, a series of three lunches in which women can expand their networks and discuss issues in a supportive environment. We currently have about two dozen women participating in that program. This year, the committee is expanding its efforts to include DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] initiatives to help support under-represented business leaders.”

The Connection also exists to provide leadership so that Tulsa continues to be even more open and accessible to the creation and growth of small businesses, which are a significant driver of the city’s economy. From roundtables and networking meetings to programming and more, the Connection is seeking to meet those needs.

An example Smith points to is the creation of a program that helps connect small businesses with great employees — which is another area where business owners can benefit from guidance and training.

“Workforce remains one of the greatest needs that small businesses face,” says Smith. “From hiring to training to retaining employees, a skilled workforce is critical to the success of businesses in the region. It is always interesting creating and refining programs to help with some of these challenges. Last year, TYPROS [Tulsa’s Young Professionals] and the Connection jointly launched Business University: Inspired Leadership Development [BUILD] to help small-business owners equip some of their best employees with new skills and understanding that would allow them to take on additional responsibilities. This year, we streamlined the program and are offering it again.”

Additional programming throughout the year includes Business Behind the Scenes educational forums, SCORE mentorships, legislative advocacy, and the Tulsa Small Business Summit and Small Business Awards. Many of the Connection’s events are open to businesses that are not members of the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. “And our website has a host of resources that anyone can access,” says Smith.  

Tulsa Small Business Connection
1 W. 3rd St. | Tulsa