A profile on Devon Laney written for the Oklahoma Venture Forum on the subject of The Third Way for Economic Development.
Coming from Birmingham, Alabama as the co-founder of Innovation Depot, one of the largest entrepreneurial support organizations in America, Devon Laney now resides in Tulsa as President and CEO of 36 Degrees North with a plan to grow entrepreneurs in the Tulsa region. Known as Tulsa’s base camp for entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups, 36 Degrees North is an entrepreneurial support organization focused on providing the resources, the community, and the programs needed to support entrepreneurs as they build, grow and scale businesses.
“When I got in Tulsa, we had two locations,” said Devon Laney. “We had about a 12,000 square foot co-working space, and then we had about an 8,000 square foot hybrid of co-working and small office space. I got here, and we put together a five-year plan and began to think about what we were going to be down the road.”
The first piece of that plan involved building and launching a large technology incubator focused on supporting early-stage technology startup companies and companies making a technology product or service that they can scale and grow and raise capital. In September 2021, 36 Degrees North opened its 50,000 square foot high-tech incubator.
While co-working spaces are an essential piece of the ecosystem, Laney said it’s not the only thing one should have in an ecosystem. While co-working is excellent for individuals, co-working spaces aren’t conducive to people trying to grow a business.
“An incubator is built for growing businesses, to support growing businesses,” said Laney. “It’s not just about one individual membership, and I’m going to charge you every time you have a new member. It’s about, this company applied, we accepted them into the program, and this company is going to pay for an office, and the office is $1,000 a month, as an example. And I don’t care how many people you put in that office. I don’t care if you put two people or seven people. It’s the same price. It’s $1,000, and that $1,000 covers utilities, internet, janitorial, security, conference rooms, phone booths, Zoom rooms, all our programming, all our workshops, all our mentors, all the different things. And the company then, as an entrepreneur, the company doesn’t have to worry about, ‘Well, if I hire two more people, my monthly bill’s going to be higher.’ They don’t have to worry about that. They can focus on growing their business and know that it’s all-inclusive, all the spaces are furnished, and it’s built to support them as they’re growing their businesses.”
On the subject of economic development, Laney said that historically everybody thinks of economic development as two things: recruitment and retention. Laney cited the example of Oklahoma trying to get Tesla to come to the state. The second way most communities have done economic development is through retention. Groups work to retain the businesses that are already in Oklahoma and keep them from going somewhere else.
“I think there’s a third,” said Laney. “I’m a big believer in the third, which is let’s grow new businesses. Let’s make sure we’re supporting the growth of new industries and new businesses here. We don’t just have to recruit them here; let’s grow them here. But it requires the same kind of investment in terms of infrastructure, resources, workforce, capital, tax incentives, all those same things.”
Laney clarified that we should continue the other two ways and add the third piece to support the growth of new businesses.
Devon Laney will be speaking at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, November 10, 2021. The event will be open to guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. Laney is excited for the opportunity to be able to share a success story from a community perspective.
“36 Degrees North is a non-profit, 501C3, and it would not exist without the public and the private partnership together,” said Laney. “In 2017, when 36 Degrees North launched, you had philanthropic community, public, private, chamber. They all came together to create this thing, and it’s a success story. It’s a win, and that’s what has enabled us to even evolve and to think about what we’re going to be in five years from now. If they hadn’t been successful at doing that, we wouldn’t be in a position to think about how to evolve it and be better and bigger going forward. So I love the opportunity to share about a success from a public-private partnership.”