By Scott Meacham
A flywheel is a heavy and perfectly balanced wheel that collects energy over time and releases it fast.
“Flywheel” is a perfect description of the multi-phase, city-wide strategy powered by Tulsa Innovation Labs (TIL) and a $50 million multi-year investment by the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF).
TIL is aimed at making Tulsa a technology hub by building “Tulsa’s tech niche” from the inside out. The data-driven approach is based on an intensive study by McKinsey & Company. The analysis filtered 100+ opportunity areas down to 25. After an impact and feasibility drill-down, TIL is targeting five core areas—cyber for operational technology; automation, analytics, and operational technology (OT) in energy; drone operations and testing; telemedicine and next generation remote care solutions, and advanced analytics.
What I like about the approach and the resulting priorities is the concentration on leveraging resources, core competencies, and assets that already exist.
For example, there are already five strong cyber companies in Tulsa. Plus, the University of Tulsa, a designated Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Education by the federal government, is recognized worldwide for its excellence is cyber security. Alumni are employed in public and private sector roles across the globe.
TIL plans also include a strong focus on operational technology (OT). OT technologies monitor and control processes in the physical world. Information technology (IT), another Tulsa strong-suit, operates in the digital world. Increasingly the two environments are converging. Unlike IT, OT is a relative new field with few specialists. It could be a sweet spot of opportunity.
I also appreciate the connection between the long-term strategy and the immediate interest and opportunity in real life solutions like drones and telemedicine. The promise of successful execution is 6,500 jobs in Tulsa over the next five to seven years, and that outlook doesn’t include suppliers or trailing opportunities.
The other thing I like about the plans based on the McKinsey analysis is the commitment to inclusive, good-paying jobs that offer opportunities to a wide range of community members.
The appeal and attraction that Tulsa could have for educated and entrepreneurial 25- to 35-year-olds could become a draw to keeping our young people here and attracting talent from other states. Tulsa is a vibrant and affordable place for young professionals and families to live. About one-third of the jobs in this strategy could be accessible with an associate degree or certificate. That’s practical.
The $50 million investment by GKFF is a great start, and it is just the start. The ultimate impact that is possible from this bold vision will be an estimated $5 billion in public and private capital investment. Entities from all over Oklahoma stand ready to participate.
One more thing about flywheels. They have high rotational inertia. In engineering-speak, that means that once a flywheel gets moving, it is hard to slow it down. I expect that a couple of years from now, we will be saying that about Tulsa and this initiative.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors and provides early stage capital for many of the state’s technology-based startup ventures