Oklahoma City has a rich history in the bioscience industry and economy, dating back to organizations such as the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF). To further develop the bioscience sector in the state, a group of partners, including the Oklahoma City Chamber, came together to explore the possibility of creating a bioscience corridor between Norman, Oklahoma City, and Stillwater. However, over time, the organization recognized the need to reexamine its model and focus on external storytelling and local support.
As part of this process, the organization brought in local expert Gene Hopper of Mettise to conduct a grassroots analysis of bioscience opportunities in Oklahoma. This analysis coincided with the launch of the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better program, which aims to fund projects expanding capacity and addressing domestic challenges in various industries.
“Through a collaboration of many, many community partners, including the innovation district, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Echo Investment Capital, I mean so many partners, I’m not going to give you all of them, but so many partners, Stephenson Cancer Center, really conceptualized eight projects we thought would sort of lend themselves to expanding the bioscience capacity of the region but also meeting some domestic challenges that we saw inhibiting Oklahoma’s growth and the nation’s growth in this space,” said Jeff Seymour, Executive Vice President of Economic Development for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
Jeff Seymour has been working in economic development since 2006. He started out studying business at a junior college in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, and had the opportunity to intern at the Blackwell Chamber, where he discovered his passion for economic development and community engagement. He has held several economic development positions, including his current role as a leader of the Oklahoma City Chamber, where he leads business recruitment, helps existing businesses grow and be sustainable, and leads research on retail recruitment, aerospace support, and innovation. Seymour is particularly passionate about the work he does in innovation and inclusive economic development.
The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber is a unique organization that serves as an economic and community development leader. They go beyond the traditional role of a Chamber of Commerce and focus on economic development leadership, community development leadership, and overall community enhancement. They are an umbrella organization with various functional areas such as economic development, government relations, marketing and events, education, convention and visitors bureau, and criminal justice.
“We do a lot of things that really says, ‘What does the landscape of Oklahoma City look like today?’” said Seymour. “Where can we and should we exert influence with the power of our memberships and our investors in our community partnerships? And how can we make Central Oklahoma better?’”
As the analysis for OKBio was concluding, the EDA Build Back Better regional challenge grants had come online. Their grant proposal was successful, and the group was awarded one of 60 phase-one grants out of 529 applicants. This grant has allowed them to examine several projects further and determine which ones should move forward to phase two. The grant’s focus is primarily on capacity building in the region, aiming to promote growth in the bioscience industry.
“Four are in partnership with the University of Oklahoma,” Seymour summarized. “Those are bio startup programs, reaching deep into the community to find new founders and ideas, bringing those to market. Bioprocessing core facility, which is a partnership with the OU Engineering department to produce both a stronger talent pipeline, but also a stronger partnership between industry and the university to bring IP to the market. Center for Development Therapeutics and a clinical trial center. Those are two projects at Stephenson Cancer Center. And then a bioscience workforce, biopharmaceutical workforce training center in partnership with the innovation district that will be housed inside Innovation Hall.”
Jennifer Hankins will join Seymour from Tulsa in a panel discussion on the Build Back Better grants. Jennifer Hankins serves as Chief of Strategic Partnerships for Tulsa Innovation Labs (TIL). She joined the team in January 2020 and brought with her nearly ten years of direct economic development experience. Working to convene myriad stakeholders across multiple industries, she is responsible for helping shape TIL’s strategic direction, organization, mission, investments and, in particular, is responsible for securing and managing its cross-sector partnerships with corporations, philanthropies, and other entities.
“I think what I’m hoping to share is that A, give a little bit more of a sneak peek behind-the-scenes on what’s embedded in this Build Back Better grant,” said Seymour. “What I think we’re trying to do right now is continue to foster opportunities for partnership. One of the things that has been really prevalent in our conversations around the bioscience industry is that so much of the IP and patent creation that’s occurred has been on the research side. It’s at the research institution’s side. And we really want to continue to use this as a catalyst to foster private sector partnerships.”
The panel discussion for Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch members will take place on Wednesday, February 8, 2023. The event will be held at The Venue at Crew in Downtown Oklahoma City from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm and will be open to members and guests both in-person and virtually via ZOOM. Seymour said OVF is one of the vehicles for us to build community and share ideas to see and get a peek behind the tent on what’s going on in the economy.
“Everything we all do is about community,” said Seymour. “Hopefully to think about some of the things that are coming at us that are next generation. And I think a chance for us to have collaborations among funders and founders to also think about ways that we can deploy capital and support the overall ecosystem.”