Nick Lalla, Tulsa Innovation Labs | Tulsa COG2019

by Nov 18, 2021Resources, Thought Leadership, Tulsa COG

Enjoy the video and transcript of the speech given by Nick Lalla of Tulsa Innovation Labs at COG2019 on November 7th, 2019 in Tulsa, OK.


Hey, everyone, I’m Nick Lalla and today I’m excited to announce the creation of a brand new company. Tulsa Innovation Labs will work with partners from across sectors to shape Tulsa’s tech economy and to expand it from the inside out. This gathering is the perfect venue for such an early milestone. Look around and you can see why Tulsa’s tech scene is primed for growth, and why a center of gravity is already emerging.

So, let me tell you about the work we’ll be doing to make Tulsa the place to live work, play and innovate. We want to make Tulsa the nation’s most inclusive tech community. An inclusive community is one that provides opportunities for all Tulsans and that reaches out to underserved neighborhoods and builds bridges to new sources of talent and innovation. And an inclusive community is one in which entrepreneurs, investors, academics, corporates, and students support one another on collaborative projects and shared goals. To build on the great work many of you are doing, we’ll launch new public-private partnerships and economic development programs to support startups, spur academic innovation, and develop talent.

We’ll focus specifically on a handful of tech industries that shows significant promise in Tulsa. For example, we’re exploring ag-tech, aviation, cyber, energy tech, FinTech, and healthcare. And we anticipate selecting two to four verticals in which to invest. Tulsa Innovation Labs is being incubated by George Kaiser Family Foundation, a local charitable organization that combats intergenerational poverty in Tulsa. GKFF understands that to provide longterm opportunities for Tulsa’s families, they need to invest in Tulsa’s economic future, hence the genesis of Tulsa Innovation Labs. I have the privilege of leading this company. Previously, I led Cyber NYC —  a $100-million public/private investment by New York City Economic Development Corporation.

And on a personal note, thanks to everyone who welcomed me to Tulsa, I’m so proud to be part of this community. The key to doing anything big is collective action. I’ll talk a bit more about this soon, but already we have three spectacular program partners. The Holberton School — a San Francisco-based software engineering academy. Team8, a Tel Aviv-founded cyber venture creation company, and the University of Tulsa and their world-class cyber program. We’re also grateful to be joined by our coalition partners, who are providing thought leadership and support — 36 Degrees North, the City of Tulsa’s Office of Economic Development, the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, and Tulsa Remote.

Tulsa has many of the ingredients needed to become a tech hub. First, it has urban density with a population that makes it one of the country’s 50 largest cities. Tulsa has a low cost of living with both talent and housing costing below the national average. Tech talent is in high demand, particularly with cyber and Tulsa is home to several universities, with areas total student population nearly 100,000. Tulsa also has anchor employers that can nurture an innovation economy, including eight Fortune 1000 company headquarters.

Tulsa Innovation Labs will create a shared vision for Tulsa’s tech future — an inclusive vision that draws upon the city’s strengths and reflects its highest aspirations. We’ll formally launch in March 2020, so stay tuned for a logo and website, but the work is already underway, and I want to give you a sense of what’s ahead. First and foremost, we’ll conduct a strategic planning exercise complete with the market industry in higher ed analyses to identify pulses tech niche. Quick plug: We’ve issued an RFP for consulting services for industry analyses, so, if you’re interested or have a recommendation, please let me know. We’ll then design programs to fill ecosystem gaps and catalyze growth —  all the while we’ll be engaging stakeholders to gain insight, test ideas, and build collaboration so that our work is industry-driven and responsive to the community. Once we’ve established our plan, we’ll make a call for program partners and take our vision around the country to raise Tulsa’s profile and to advertise the opportunities to work with us. Finally, around September 2021, we’ll formalize partnerships and launch a suite of new programs.

Two programs indicative of what’s to come have already launched. You’ve heard from TU President Clancy, and following my presentation, Tom Selah will tell you about Team8 and Libby Wuller will tell you about the Holberton School but, suffice it to say, these are two critical new players to Tulsa.  At scale, Holberton will train and graduate 500 software engineers each year and TU and Team8 will enroll 10 Masters or Doctoral students annually and work together to commercialize their cyber-related research. This influx of talent and innovation will have catalytic effects.

Building an inclusive tech community requires broad-based support and we want to work with everyone. There will be many ways to contribute and benefit. Engaging Tulsa Innovation Labs can offer access to talent and potential clients and investment opportunities, as well as raise your visibility in the ecosystem. A few ways to contribute: Capital helps sustain programs and funds students’ scholarships. Hiring agreements for interns and full-time employees are essential to building links between employers and talent programs. And startup support, such as mentorship, proofs of concepts, data sharing and investments, encourages homegrown companies. Working together, we can build an inclusive tech community that fosters a culture of entrepreneurship, commercializes research done at local universities, graduates and retains talent in high demand tech fields, and attracts new employers and innovators to Tulsa. I can’t wait to work with you. Email me at Thank you.

Learn more about the Tulsa Center of Gravity (COG) Group here.