Tulsa’s Tech Boom

Article from Tulsa World by Robert Evatt

City’s tech industry might not be loud, but it’s growing

When Apple released its jumbo-sized 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the company touted a number of apps it felt would work well on it. One of these was Whiteboard.

Whiteboard, which is also available on Android and other iOS devices, is an organizational app that, among other features, breaks up to-do lists by what can be accomplished each day and allows groups to collaborate on tasks.

Since its official launch in September, the Whiteboard app has been featured in 108 places in the Apple app store, according to Whiteboard co-founder Kayvon Olomi.

It was also created in Tulsa.

Olomi said dozens of creative tech companies have sprung up in Tulsa in recent years. Most of them are still small and relatively unknown.

“There’s a lot of cool companies the community should be proud of, but they aren’t going around tooting their own horns,” he said.

These new entrepreneurs are helping to expand the number of tech jobs within the Tulsa area. Brien Thorstenberg, senior vice president of the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said the number of jobs at organizations strictly defined as tech companies has now grown to 7,500.

And demand continues to grow. John Hale, a professor at the University of Tulsa’s Tandy School of Computer Science — one of the area’s biggest producers of skilled tech professionals — said graduates now have more opportunities in their backyard.

“We’re seeing more students stay here,” he said. “Some will stay here for a few years and move on, but it used to be a higher proportion would leave the area. There are more opportunities now.”

Said Thorstenberg: “They’re very high-quality jobs. They bring in an educated workforce, and they raise the average salary for the area.”

Steady increase

Mark Lauinger, senior vice president with i2E, a statewide nonprofit organization that works to promote the development of innovative small businesses, said tech jobs in Tulsa had been heavily slanted toward software development and information technology.

But that’s starting to change.

“I’ve seen a steady increase in other types of technology opportunities, such as in mobile apps,” he said. “We’re even seeing some opportunity in the oil and gas industry. Slowly but surely, the oil field is digitizing.”

Hale said he’s seen a number of tech companies pop up that are dedicated to health care or life sciences.

“It used to be, in my field, you would be a programmer,” he said. “Now there’s so many other options.”

Olomi said the national tech boom has helped inspire local entrepreneurs to create their own companies. But while innovative opportunities are being explored, the scattershot nature of these new companies can leave the local tech scene feeling fractured.

“On the surface, you feel like the community is nonexistent,” Olomi said. “But once you start digging deeper, there’s some amazing technologies being developed.”

Lauinger said the Tulsa area doesn’t yet have some of the advantages bigger cities have when it comes to attracting more tech talent, such as research universities or large, innovative companies like Google or Apple that can generate a kind of Halo effect.

But at the same time, he doesn’t feel Tulsa needs to join the Silicon Valley quest to find a new “unicorn” — a company that has the potential to acquire a value of $1 billion or more.

“We’re sticking to our knitting,” Lauinger said. “We’re not seeing someone wanting to create the next Google in Tulsa.”

Read the rest of the article by Robert Evatt here.

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