TULSA, Oklahoma – Tulsa Innovation Labs (TIL), the new technology-led economic development organization pioneered by George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), announced an initial infusion of $50 million into Tulsa’s economic development. The announcement comes in conjunction with the release of TIL’s report identifying the city’s most promising tech clusters.
TIL worked with McKinsey & Company, the global management consultancy, on the study, which identified telemedicine and remote care solutions, operational technology for energy, drones, cyber, and analytics as most promising for Tulsa’s economic future. A summary of the report is available here.
TIL, which launched in March, is working to establish Tulsa’s tech niche by creating new economic development programs to support local talent, startups, and academic innovation aligned to the five tech clusters above.
“Tulsa is truly a blue sky of opportunity, and we’re excited to work with partners from across sectors to position the city as a tech hub and leader in the future of work,” said Nicholas Lalla, co-founder and managing director of TIL. “This initial investment of $50 million will enable us to focus on growing five specific clusters through new programs and projects that expand opportunities to Tulsans. The pandemic is displacing workers and disrupting markets, so now is the time to be thinking about the future.”
Specific programmatic and project opportunities in phase one of TIL’s multi-phase work will be announced later this year. TIL plans on prioritizing its telemedicine and workforce activities and is looking for partners interested in contributing to and benefitting from the Tulsa ecosystem.
TIL is funded and supported by GKFF, a Tulsa-based charitable organization. Through public and private partnerships, the foundation has led several high-impact projects, including most recently, Gathering Place, a renowned urban park.
Ken Levit, executive director of GKFF, said: “Economic development is new terrain for GKFF. But we know that to provide long-term opportunities for Tulsa’s families, we need to invest in our local economy and prepare Tulsa for the jobs of the future. TIL is going to be instrumental in creating a thriving and inclusive innovation economy that creates new opportunities for Tulsans. This work is needed now more than ever.”
TIL is working closely with industry leaders to align its strategy and ensure that its programs position Tulsa’s employers for long-term success.
“QuikTrip is dedicated to preparing our business and our teams for the future. We’re excited to collaborate with Tulsa Innovation Labs as it positions Tulsa for the jobs and opportunities of tomorrow,” said Gina Hitz, chief information officer at QuikTrip.
“Tulsa Innovation Labs is a great addition to the city. I’m confident that their efforts to foster more startups, spur academic innovation (especially in the cyber space), and attract and develop high-caliber talent to the region will generate significant economic value,” said Steve Bradshaw, chief executive officer of Bank of Oklahoma.
“OSU-Tulsa stands ready to work with TIL to drive innovation. The university’s expertise in telemedicine and drones, in particular, aligns well with TIL’s vision, and we look forward to working with them and our fellow universities to transform research into pioneering startups,” said Dr. Pam Fry, president of Oklahoma State University’s Tulsa campus.
“Tulsa has been an unbelievable home for Verinovum,” said Mike Noshay, co-founder and chief strategy officer of the healthcare data analytics company. “Tulsa is home to a confluence of assets that we believe will set our community (and our business) apart in years to come, and we look forward to working with Tulsa Innovation Labs on such an important endeavor.”
Leaders have already been hard at work implementing programs to spur innovation and develop talent. Two programs sit under the TIL platform already: a doctoral fellowship in cyber and a coding academy.
TIL is partnering with the University of Tulsa to bring a leading cyber venture creation company, Team8, to Tulsa. Founded in Tel Aviv, with a large New York City office, Team8 will collaborate with 10 PhD students each year to create cyber-related companies from their research projects. The fellowship provides incentives for fellows to stay in Tulsa upon graduation and pursue their entrepreneurial ambitions.
“The University of Tulsa is known for its excellence in cyber,” says Nadav Zafrif, founder and chief executive officer of Team8. “Taking academic research and leveraging that to create new businesses will feed Tulsa’s burgeoning innovation economy. This type of partnership, between the university, Tulsa Innovation Labs, and Team8 represents a new model for commercializing innovation and spurring economic growth.”
And, the Holberton School, a software engineering academy based in San Francisco, launched its third U.S. campus in Tulsa in January, and is key to TIL’s efforts to building an inclusive tech community in Tulsa.
"Having diverse backgrounds and experiences in the workplace makes for better business decisions, more responsive products, and a more inclusive ecosystem,” said Libby Wuller, executive director of Holberton School, Tulsa. “As Tulsa strives to build a tech-enabled economy, we must do so with a diverse workforce! At Holberton, our deferred tuition model and living assistance program aim to create pathways to the software engineering profession regardless of an individual’s circumstances."
While Oklahoma has leaned on oil and gas as an economic staple, in recent years, other innovations have come to the surface. Entrepreneurship has exploded with multiple co-working spaces, incubators, and successful startups throughout Tulsa. The city is also home to a thriving downtown arts scene.
“Tulsa has made incredible strides reinventing its economy around remote work, arts and culture, and quality of place with one of the greatest open spaces in modern memory, Gathering Place. Now, the region is taking the next crucial step in building its innovative and entrepreneurial startup economy with the launch of Tulsa Innovation Labs,” said urbanist and author Richard Florida. “This cutting-edge new initiative will help attract global talent, retain local talent, and power the economy of the future.”
“It should be clear to everyone that Tulsa is a city on the rise. Recent successes, such as the announcement by American Airlines of a $550 million investment in Tulsa, gives me great optimism about the city’s future. To have such a forward-thinking company like Tulsa Innovation Labs focus on tech-led economic development will be a boon for the city,” said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.
“As a native Tulsan, I am so proud of GKFF for launching Tulsa Innovation Labs. We are excited to work with TIL and champion tech-led economic and workforce development in cities and communities across the state. Tulsa Innovation Labs is a testament to how Oklahomans think big and invest in the future,” said Sean Kouplen, Oklahoma state secretary of commerce.
Recognizing that the jobs of the future are rooted in a thriving innovation economy, the George Kaiser Family Foundation pioneered Tulsa Innovation Labs to develop a city-wide strategy that positions Tulsa as a tech hub and leader in the future of work. Through a diverse coalition of public and private partners, TIL is creating economic development programs that seek to make Tulsa the nation’s most inclusive tech community. For more information, visit: www.tulsainnovationlabs.com.