By Stephen Prescott, M.D.
Copyright (2018) The Oklahoma Publishing Co.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Nor will Oklahoma City’s Innovation District be. But the past month has seen some exciting progress as our community works to create a hub for entrepreneurship.
First, a quick refresher: The Innovation District is loosely defined as the area that contains the Oklahoma Health Center and Automobile Alley. The goal is to establish a more unified identity for this part of the city, with a focus on making it home to a critical mass of startup businesses.
This effort is being led by the Oklahoma Health Center Foundation, with support from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, Presbyterian Health Foundation, Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and Oklahoma City Redevelopment Authority.
The big, public development was the naming of Katy Evans Boren as the president and CEO of the Innovation District. An Oklahoma City attorney, she will take the reins on July 9.
When she does, Boren will bring a host of skills that she’s developed in more than two decades working in Oklahoma City: business experience, legal and entrepreneurial know-how, management and governance expertise. We were fortunate to find someone with the talent and capacity to accomplish the ambitious goals we’ve mapped out for the district.
She’ll build on a wealth of experience in the public and private sectors — she’s practiced law at private firms, Oklahoma state agencies and served as regional vice president of Cox Communications. She’ll now be tasked with setting up the Innovation District’s legal and organizational structuring, branding the district, then creating and implementing programs that will move the district from the drawing board onto the streets of Oklahoma City.
The naming of a leader is a watershed moment for this initiative. With a champion and face for the district, we anticipate gathering speed and momentum that had been difficult to create as a like-minded but leaderless coalition of partner organizations.
Partners in progress
Still, those partner organizations have much to lend the district. Indeed, the second exciting development for the Innovation District is the funding commitment each of the district’s supporters have now pledged.
Going forward, the district’s six founding partners all have agreed to a five-year funding commitment. This will provide the district with a steady and reliable stream of seed funding that ensures this initiative has the means to sustain itself as it incubates. By the end of this five-year period, the vision is that the district will have grown its programs sufficiently to generate income sufficient to support itself.
On the topic of vision, a third important development is launching the process to create a strategic development and land-use plan. This critical step will be led by the international architectural firm of Perkins + Will.
The plan will identify prime locations for commercial and residential use. It will also devise methods for improving pedestrian and bicycle connectivity between the Health Center and Automobile Alley. And it will inform place-making efforts for the kind of events that will provide creative fuel for the district: lectures, festivals, recreational activities, food trucks, pop-up shops and weekend market.
Ultimately, the goal is to create a more vibrant, fully integrated community where creative people from all fields — health, energy, arts, business — live, work, eat and play. This community should be a place where people from these diverse sectors interact regularly, with those interactions fostering serendipitous new opportunities for entrepreneurship and creation.
This is going to be a long process, but it will be a worthwhile one. With a talented new leader, funding stability and a strategic planning process in place, the future looks bright for Oklahoma City’s Innovation District. Stay tuned!
A physician and medical researcher, Dr. Stephen Prescott is president of the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and can be reached at [email protected].