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Some of the hottest extended education options for Tulsa business people are designed to refine their entrepreneurial interests or develop their leadership skills.
One of the most popular, the Self Employment Preparedness Program offered by the Tulsa Business Assistance Center, has been filling its classroom for 18 years, said Bill Lunsford, director of BAC since it opened in April 1987.
The 12-week program, which is offered four times a year, is a “sell-out just about all the time,” he said.
The concept for the BAC, 6111 E. Skelly Dr., was developed in late 1986 by the leadership of the Tulsa Technology Center and Tulsa Community College in response to the deterioration of the Oklahoma economy following the “oil bust” of the early- and mid-1980s, Lunsford said.
“Our primary thrust is job creation and job retention,” Lunsford said, and one of the ways the BAC does that is through the self-employment training program, which was formed shortly after the BAC opened.
The program is “designed for people who decide, ‘Gee, I want to start my own business, what do I have to do?’” he said. It takes entrepreneurs through the basics of refining their business ideas, “with the end result being that you walk out the other side being able to complete a comprehensive business plan suitable for financing.”
The program has assisted more than 120 individuals to evaluate their ideas, secure financing and successfully start new business ventures which have resulted in the creation of more than 500 new jobs in the Tulsa area.
Lunsford said 35-36 percent of the people who take the class “actually pull the pin and start a business.”
“One of the things we take particular pride in – of the people who have started businesses over the last 18 years, a lot have gone out of business for different reasons, but we have only had two bankruptcy filings,” he said.
In addition, 90-plus percent of the business es that start “are still in operation after three years,” he said.
“I don’t think it’s that we are that good – that we give them such great training that they are guaranteed success,” he said. “We keep a lot of folks from jumping off the bridge. They go through the process, and, No. 1, they don’t have enough money, or the idea isn’t that good or ‘I don’t really think that the market is there.’”
The program isn’t just popular during economic downturns, Lunsford said.
“I was concerned several years ago when the economy was really strong,” he said. “I thought we might see the interest in that wane because everybody’s fully employed and working hard. Strangely enough the dream of owning your own business still burns out there pretty bright, because even through those uptimes our classes were full.”
The BAC also offers a Small Business Management Program to help existing businesses increase market share, improve profitability and increase employment.
The 12-month program is set up to work with business owners, providing monthly seminars and personal consulting, Lunsford said.
“We enroll business ideas,” he said. “We have a lot of husbands and wives and lot of partners” who share materials for the cost of one enrollment.
The cost for either BAC program is $195.
Honing Their People Skills
What started out as a request from the telecommunications industry to create a program to teach middle management people skills has become a training ground for Tulsa business personnel to hone their team building, networking and change initiative capabilities.
The program, the Master of Arts in Organizational Dynamics, offered through the University of Oklahoma Psychology Department at the OU-Tulsa campus, was the result of a request by telecommunications giants Williams Telecommunications Corp. and the former WorldCom, said Brigitte Steinheider, Ph.D., director and assistant professor of the program.
“They were looking for a master’s program for middle management,” she said. “They thought our employees have the technical skills but what they are missing are the people skills.”
The program, which is unique to OU, admitted its first students in April 2003, she said.
Steinheider said a maximum of 20 students are admitted to the program a year. At the OU-Tulsa campus, 41st Street and Yale Avenue, there is 40-50 enrolled in the program, which has graduated 15 students.
“It is basically a small program because classes are very interactive,” she said.
Demand for the program has grown so that admissions, originally held once a year, are now opened twice a year, and a third resident faculty member has been added at the OU-Tulsa campus
“Meanwhile we probably turn down 50 percent of the applicants,” Steinheider said.
She said interest in the program “basically covers all industries here in Tulsa,” with employees from American Airlines, State Farm, Pepsi, IBM, MCI, Cox Communications and John Zink, among others, enrolled.
This program is effective because it instills networking abilities, she said.
“First of all, we put students into teams in most of our classes, so what they learn is not only the knowledge, but also the team skills – how to be part of a team, how to become an effective team member,” Steinheider said. “The next thing we do is let them work on real projects. For example, most of our classes address really advanced questions like how to hire a more diverse workforce and how to make that happen within a company.”
She said, “We try to get companies more involved in the program at a very early stage, because in the end what the students have to do is a capstone project, that is a kind of change initiative which they do in their own company, usually.”
Corporate interest has also turned the program into its own job market, Steinheider said.
“We have companies like State Farm, Pepsi and Cox Communications who have already hired students out of the program.” ?

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