More Resources and Funding to Help Builders Take Their Next Step
January 1, 2022

More Resources and Funding to Help Builders Take Their Next Step

Tulsa, Okla. – Today, Heartland Forward, Builders + Backers, and the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) announced a new program and funding to help Tulsa entrepreneurs scale their new businesses. The Builders + Backers Stepping Stones Intensive builds on the work during the Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator powered by Heartland Forward and GKFF. This pilot will provide additional support to 10 alumni Builders who have gone through the initial phase of the program and are in the process of creating or expanding revenue-generating businesses. Members of the Stepping Stones program will participate in a three-day intensive workshop and receive $10,000 in non-dilutive funding to go toward their business.


The Builders + Backers Idea Accelerator powered by Heartland Forward is a proven onramp to entrepreneurship, helping participants put their ideas into action. Builders receive $5,000 in pebble grant funding to run fast experiments to test the demand and early-stage feasibility for their idea. Upon completing  the program, the Builders + Backers team identified individuals for the Stepping Stones program whose experiments gave early, positive evidence of success and are ready to move toward creating a revenue-generating, growing business. The objective of the Stepping Stones program is to help participants formally launch their business, become an employer in the community – creating at least three jobs, and potentially grow to $1 million in revenue. 


“Since these ten Builders have completed the Idea Accelerator program, we’ve been continuing to provide mentorship and guidance and have been excited by each of their continued guidance,” said Donna Harris, Founder and CEO of Builders + Backers. “We know though that moving from those early days of idea validation to actual revenue generation can be particularly challenging. This program will provide the literal stepping stones to make that transition and our team is excited to help grow each of these ventures.”


This first cohort in Tulsa is a pilot program, with the potential to expand to communities that have adopted the Idea Accelerator in the coming months. 


“We have seen exciting and innovative ideas come out of our Tulsa cohorts of the Idea Accelerator, and Heartland Forward is thrilled to be partnering with Builders + Backers and the George Kaiser Family Foundation to launch a pilot program that provides additional support and funding to help these entrepreneurs fully get their businesses off the ground,” said Katie Milligan, Program Manager, Innovation and Entrepreneurship for Heartland Forward. “We believe the Stepping Stones program will help participants navigate a difficult time between idea and growing business, and we look forward to seeing the successes of this first cohort.” 


With the support of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Tulsa was an early adopter of the Idea Accelerator and now has 50 alumni Builders. Given the community’s adoption of the experimentation mindset, Tulsa presented a clear choice to pilot the program and add this next layer of support for alumni Builders.

Tulsa is a city of opportunity, with a strong community of entrepreneurs and creators,” said Ben Stewart, senior program officer for GKFF. “This program builds on our thriving small business economy to create even more opportunities for Tulsans.”


The Tulsa companies participating in the Stepping Stone program are:

  • BotanicallyBe, founded by Britt Parrish, offers events, products and services for the exploding market of houseplant enthusiasts.
  • Black Rosie Media, founded by Erica Ayala, is creating opportunities and community for Black and melanated women in sports journalism. 
  • Athlete Reserve, founded by Hunter Solano, brings a hyperlocal, matchmaking approach to college athletes for NIL sponsorship opportunities.
  • Bounceless, founded by Chantelle Lott, is a functional-first sports bra for full-busted women with patented technology. 
  • Eat36N, founded by Cheryl Lawson, is a wildly popular pop-up food truck park serving North Tulsa.
  • Tulsa Policy Institute, founded by Samuel Kurtz, is a platform to promote understanding of and transparency in local government functioning to help increase confidence in civic institutions.
  • The Dose Calc Academy, founded by Latoya Smith, is an app and curriculum giving nursing students a better approach to calculating medication dosages.
  • Scale State, founded by Jolie Vu, an AI-powered software, automates manual, repetitive & error-prone tasks so your team can focus on reaching audit conclusions
  • The Barter Shop, founded by Shanice Brown, a platform for small businesses and freelancers to swap services in cashless transactions.
  • SkillFund, founded by Trae Sjogren, is a platform and program teaching high school graduates remote-friendly skills for expanded job opportunities. 


The workshop will be held January 23-25. More information about the workshop to follow. To learn more about the Idea Accelerator, see here.


About Heartland Forward:

Heartland Forward is a nonpartisan, 501c3 organization whose mission is to improve economic performance in the center of the United States by advocating for fact-based solutions to foster job creation, knowledge-based and inclusive growth and improved health outcomes. Heartland Forward conducts independent, data-driven research and programs to facilitate action-oriented discussion and impactful policy recommendations. To learn more, visit

About Builders + Backers:

Builders + Backers invests in exceptional entrepreneurs who are building global-scale ventures to power an entirely different future - one where technology creates value for many instead of capturing it for a few. Through proprietary programming, Builders + Backers also inspires and equips people to best seize the opportunities of our digital era - from experimentation and solving problems in their local communities to starting new ventures that could scale. By backing the most creative builders across the country, we can shape the digital future to be one in which more people participate and thrive.

About George Kaiser Family Foundation:

George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) is a charitable organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through investments in early childhood education, community health, social services and civic enhancement. Based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, GKFF works primarily on initiatives developed in collaboration with Tulsa-based direct service organizations. For more information about George Kaiser Family Foundation, visit