DECEMBER POWER LUNCH:
Ventures as Tools:
Building the Oklahoma Entrepreneur Mentoring Program with Douglas Sorocco
Written by Lori Williams
Did you know that Douglas Sorocco, owner of Dunlap Codding in Oklahoma City, isn’t just an intellectual property attorney, PHOSITA blogger, chemist, visionary, social entrepreneur, and creator of DC on Film Row? He’s also one of the volunteer co-directors of the new Oklahoma Entrepreneurship Mentoring Program (OKEMP). Modeled after MIT’s Venture Mentoring Service (MIT VMS), OKEMP matches an entrepreneur with a team of unbiased, experienced mentors.
“Entrepreneurs always talk about needing a pitch deck,” says Mr. Sorocco, “but I want them to know the story they’re teaching in that deck. I tell them, ‘Print it out. Use a highlighter. Draw it up.’”
With a fountain pen in one hand and a Moleskine® in the other, Sorocco does just that. “My best ideas begin with doodling on paper,” he says. “I’m a chemist, so I love process flow.”
It’s no wonder, then, that Sorocco relishes the process inherent in the OKEMP model. He calls it “a longitudinal kind of support.”
“This type of commitment is what’s been missing in Oklahoma,” he says. “OKEMP provides mentoring teams who follow entrepreneurs throughout their whole career. Because true entrepreneurs don’t stop with just one idea.”
But when Sorocco came to Oklahoma 23 years ago, he soon noticed what wasn’t missing: “There’s a character trait here that you can do anything and your failures don’t follow you,” says the businessman and world traveler. “I have a lot of clients in Germany, and they love the idea of the West, the musical Oklahoma, the
prairie. When they meet me, they act like I’m a rock star or a mythical type figure.”
“I have to explain to them, ‘No, it’s just kind of a normal thing. We try new things, but if it doesn’t work out that doesn’t mean we can’t try again.’”
That type of innovation is apparent with OKEMP’s inaugural group of five entrepreneurs. Ideas with potential for positive social impact are well represented: Actovos, created by ittybam, seeks to streamline the connection between child welfare workers and possible foster parents. Another company, ITOT, already has a prototype for a handgun trigger lock that is biometrical and practical.
“One of the beauties of the program is that, no matter where the entrepreneurs are in their life cycle, they’re getting matched up with mentors who can offer unbiased, unconflicted advice.”
What mentors also offer is access to their experiences as successful entrepreneurs, delivered during regularly scheduled 90 minute meetings. “There is a curriculum,” explains Sorocco, “but it is driven by the entrepreneurs who are coming with questions and concerns.”
“For example, the first entrepreneur may already have a prototype without ever looking at markets. So it’s backwards! So the mentor helps identify who’s going to buy the product. Whereas the second entrepreneur may be a programmer who’s never sold anything. So the mentoring team teaches how to develop relationships that don’t seem too transactional.”
“What I love most about the MIT VMS Program,” says Attorney Sorocco, “is that it uses the venture as a tool to build up the entrepreneur.”
“Most entrepreneurs are going to fail with their first or second company. What we need for them to do is learn along the way so that when they get to number three or four, they’re more likely to succeed.”
Spoken like a true rock star, Mr. Sorocco. No myth about it.