Predictions by Jennifer Hankins
Head of Partnerships, Tulsa Innovation Labs
Recent history proves that innovation-based economies continue to outperform more industrial economies in many key economic-development metrics such as job growth, average wage, productivity, and entrepreneurship. Cities across the heartland, like Tulsa, that were built on the backs of legacy industries like oil and gas, aviation, manufacturing, and healthcare now have the opportunity to position their cities for success in the global innovation economy without falling victim to the same hypergrowth pitfalls that communities like San Francisco and Austin have faced. In those examples, large portions of San Francisco and Austin’s local citizens have been excluded from the opportunities their growth has created by failing to fully leverage and integrate the strengths of their previously existing economic base into their innovation economies. Tulsa Innovation Labs believes that through building a comprehensive, hyperlocal “Innovation Flywheel” comprised of local corporations, universities, startups, and capital providers, cities like Tulsa can avoid these pitfalls and successfully pivot towards a vibrant innovation-based economy that builds on, the community’s existing industry expertise while also creating accessible opportunities for all Tulsans.
According to a report by the Brookings Institution, the nation’s five top innovation metro areas—Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego—accounted for more than 90% of the nation’s innovation-sector growth from 2005 to 2017.
In order for Tulsa to harness the full potential of the global innovation economy and create greater economic opportunity for the community, it is critical to work alongside existing stakeholders in order to drive value through new technologies and innovations across core industries such as energy, healthcare, and cybersecurity.
In Tulsa, the local economy has historically been anchored by legacy industries such as oil and gas, aviation, and manufacturing, that have been cyclical in nature, at risk for automation, and largely low-wage – especially when compared to jobs in advanced industries like tech. Recognizing that the jobs and opportunities of the future are deeply-rooted in a thriving innovation economy, Tulsa Innovation Labs was founded to solidify Tulsa’s “right to win” in a city-wide strategy that positions itself as a tech hub. Part of that strategy includes devising new strategies for economic development that break cycles of economic growth and decline, while simultaneously creating more opportunity for Tulsans to participate and benefit from its next phase of growth.
Tulsa Innovation Labs began its work in the community by building a comprehensive, data-driven strategy for the city’s economic future which was firmly rooted in technology and innovation.
From the beginning of this process, thoughtfully cultivating Tulsa’s “Innovation Flywheel” – composed of local corporations, universities, startups and capital providers – has enabled Tulsa to build strategies that leverage the strengths of these groups, identify the critical needs of these constituencies and build programs that bridge the gap between economic development and meeting immediate and long-term industry needs.
For example, in the case of the energy industry in Tulsa, local oil and gas corporations have identified several areas where innovation could help to move the industry forward – including using advanced technology to aid the global energy transition. However, Tulsa’s local firms are also clear-eyed that a large barrier to achieving these goals has been their inability to rapidly innovate internally to meet the ever changing demands of the industry. Local firms also cite a lack of expertise with the process of identifying and nurturing startups that could build the tools needed for their future success. Bringing these corporations in to TIL’s “Innovation Flywheel,” and carefully crafting a strong value proposition from the onset of our work has enabled us to use these local industry insights to build programs that foster local entrepreneurship, help recruit startups into the city, and launch venture funds and accelerator programs in Tulsa. All of these things working in tandem allow Tulsa to finally bridge a divide between our economy’s industry expertise and an economy built for the future.
TIL has seen similar successes in working closely with local universities to double down on their strengths in research – particularly in the areas of advanced aerial mobility, cybersecurity and healthcare. Working together, we’ve built pathways for research that can be commercialized and ultimately lead to new company formation, thus kicking another piece of the Innovation Flywheel into action and creating additional inputs to Tulsa’s innovation economy.
2022 Mantra: Investing in your strengths is just as important for cities as it is for startups. Know your value proposition and lean all the way into it.
In the years ahead, cities that are intentional in building their own hyperlocal, dynamic “Innovation Flywheel” will not only be quicker to identify and bridge gaps in their local economies but will also be the communities that will grow in ways that meet the needs of the companies and individuals who currently reside there.