Tulsa’s Tech Hub Advantage: An interview with Tori Burris, Manager of Strategic Initiatives at Tulsa Innovation Labs

Before Tori Burris became the manager of strategic initiatives at Tulsa Innovation Labs, she was a vital member of the early team at Holbert and Tulsa, the city’s vocational software engineering school. Burris played a pivotal role for three and a half years, contributing to the growth from a startup with the first five people to a thriving institution with over a hundred alums, 250 students, and a staff of over 30. During her tenure, she lived the entrepreneurial

journey, oversaw the career services department, and collaborated with startups seeking to hire junior technical talent.

Tulsa Innovation Labs is pivotal in catalyzing the leadership of Tulsa’s future innovation sectors. Burris said the organization focuses on four key sectors—virtual health, energy technology, advanced mobility, and cyber and analytics. Through an extensive study, Tulsa Innovation Labs identifies areas where the city’s assets align with future industry needs. Working at a systems level, the organization takes a strategic approach to economic development, intentionally coordinating efforts to ensure the city’s growth and stability. Rather than delving into day-to-day operations, Tulsa Innovation Labs operates at a higher level, aiming to position the city strategically through thoughtful initiatives in technology-based economic development.

“Outside of those verticals, people might know Tulsa Innovation Labs for our grants and policy team or some of our big grant wins,” said Tori Burris. “Tulsa Innovation Labs led the Build Back Better Regional Challenge win that we had about a year ago, and that was a great opportunity for us to establish ourselves with the EDA, the Economic Development Administration, and to give Tulsa some intentionally coordinated investment in how we grow the advanced mobility in cyber industries.”

Earlier in October, President Biden announced Tulsa was one of 31 tech hubs nationwide. According to the White House press release, Tulsa Hub for Equitable & Trustworthy Autonomy (THETA), led by Tulsa Innovation Labs, aims to become a global leader in developing and commercializing autonomous systems for use cases ranging from agriculture and pipeline inspections to regional transportation.

“With the Tech Hubs distinction, the Greater Tulsa Region is set to capture $4 billion of the $1.36 trillion global autonomous systems market,” said Burris.

Burris emphasized that becoming a Tech Hub not only signifies the city’s current trajectory but also presents a unique opportunity for startups and investors to play a pivotal role in shaping Tulsa’s future as a global player in autonomy and cybersecurity industries, with the potential to create significant economic impact and generate up to 200,000 new jobs over the next decade.

Entrepreneurs and investors eager to leverage Tulsa’s emergence as a Tech Hub have a unique opportunity to participate in the city’s growing tech ecosystem. Burris encourages startups to explore the possibilities within the advanced mobility and cybersecurity sectors. The upcoming Phase Two application submission on February 29 will outline the diverse and robust suite of projects to foster new businesses and commercialization in Tulsa’s tech landscape.

“This is a validation that if you’re in Tulsa if you’re in Oklahoma, it’s really about the region,” said Burris. “If you’re in the region doing this work and helping build our tech ecosystem, then this is a validation that we are on the right track.”

Tori Burris will speak at the Oklahoma Venture Forum Power Lunch on Wednesday, January 10, 2024. The event will be open to members and guests in person at 36 Degrees North (36 E. Cameron St. in Tulsa) and via ZOOM. Burris will share valuable insights into the future of Tulsa’s tech sector and the opportunities ahead.

“Investors will have better visibility on deal flow, both startups and IP being developed in the area, than your VC peers outside of the region,” said Burris. “This is an opportunity to gain more insight into what is developing so venture capitalists regionally can take advantage of this opportunity.”