“…One of the most revered innovation cubes in the world.” – The OKCID’s Programming Impact in 2022

“…One of the most revered innovation cubes in the world.”
The OKC Innovation District’s Impact Through Programming in 2022

Since 2019, the Oklahoma City Innovation District has hosted more than 100 different programming opportunities, and in 2022 alone, the District produced more than 50 individual events that delivered unmatched programming to more than 5,000 innovators in Oklahoma, growing OKC’s innovation ecosystem by convening people, ideas and opportunities.

One of those innovators is Brent Smith, the Founder of Firefly Energy Services, and he spoke to the Innovation District’s programming and the opportunities it affords entrepreneurs and innovators from a myriad of industry backgrounds.

“Our company has benefitted directly from the OKC Innovation District’s mission to be a connector, convener and driver in the ecosystem,” Smith said. “We engaged and saw an immediate impact in every key areas of our business – institutional and state-level funding opportunities, potential commercial projects, government relationships and seamless connections one touch from those key introductions.

“Our team was very selective about where we were going to focus our networking energy, and as entrepreneurs with limited amounts of time, it came down to choosing spaces we could see a consistent impact and that could also offer an opportunity to remain consistently and collaboratively involved.”

One of the Innovation District’s premiere collaborative events, Cocktails & Collaboration, has become a signature staple in OKC’s innovation ecosystem for community partners, innovators, entrepreneurs and industry experts to attend each month, and according to Curt Foster, an OKC-based entrepreneur and the CEO of Blujay Partners, these events are built to help innovators and leaders of start-ups navigate their journeys and network along the way.

“The Innovation District’s happy hours have become some of my favorite networking opportunities,” Foster said. “The atmosphere at these is always so positive and being surrounded by other entrepreneurs makes it easy to discuss issues that are relatable to us all.”

Another renowned, OKC-based entrepreneur and developer, Steve Mason, echoed Foster’s comments.

“The Innovation District’s monthly Cocktails and Collaboration happy hours are some of the most well-attended & diverse happy hours in Oklahoma City,” Mason said. “People from varying backgrounds, professions and interests all coexist at these, and there is always impactful conversation around innovation.”

Another element the Innovation District has focused on incorporating into its programming over the last few years is community and minority organization highlights. In 2022 alone, the Innovation District featured 10 Northeast Oklahoma City or minority community organizations at events and partnered with an additional 11 minority-owned businesses to host OKCID events in Northeast Oklahoma City that helped drive the District’s role as a convener and connector.

The Innovation District’s role engaging with Northeast OKC has solidified the community’s position in building the District, partnering on programming as noted above, but also by connecting STEM education and workforce opportunities coming out of the District to the District’s community itself.

In 2022, one of the most exciting examples of this was through the launch of the Innovation District’s Northeast Oklahoma City Innovation Academy, an opportunity unique to Northeast OKC and an initiative that started with the establishment of a TIF-driven STEM Education and Workforce Development Committee that conducted research to establish the area’s highest STEM needs. In this process, the Innovation District team worked with Northeast OKC leaders to identify some of the proposed targeted investment opportunities and then went about seeking, receiving and deploying $350,000 in TIF money through the District’s Northeast OKC Innovation Academy. Up to this point, the NEOKC Innovation Academy has served 1,700+ students and 400+ parents, and it has generated more than 900 hours of volunteer work.

Marcus Jackson, the Executive Director of the Bridge Impact Center in Northeast Oklahoma City, and one of the organizations who benefited from the TIF money distributed through the NEOKC Innovation Academy, spoke to the District’s impact in Northeast OKC and the potential it brings.

“The Innovation District assessed a need and immediately leveraged a relationship they had to help the Impact Center meet that need,” Jackson said. “Our team is excited about the relationship we have with the Innovation District, and we can’t wait to see how these relationships help transform our community over the upcoming years.”

Another extremely successful programming initiative the Innovation District launched in 2022 was Innovation Week, a program that was started alongside nearly 30 other organizational partners to bring hands-on STEM simulation experiences in bioscience, aerospace, robotics, unmanned systems, data science, AR/VR and more to the Innovation District for Oklahoma City public schools’ students, much like a science fair combined with a career fair for middle school students.

Innovation Week focused on engaging the ‘entire student’ through its programming by engaging the student’s minds, hands and hearts, as students were able to not only see their dream careers in front of them, but as they were also able to learn how to make those careers a reality in the state of Oklahoma itself. The event saw nearly 1,000 middle school students participate, with nearly 70 percent of those students being minority students and/or coming from low-income households.

In addition to the social and community, STEM-based programming, the Innovation District has also developed substantive programming around innovative, cross-cutting technologies that span many advanced industry sectors. In 2022, the Innovation District held substantive events that featured topics ranging from: artificial intelligence, autonomous systems, biotechnology, coding, entrepreneurial funding, energy diversification, radar technology and more. This programming spanned from conferences, panels, and speakers to symposia, working groups, and seminars, all of which focused on convening people to exchange ideas, collaborate and further innovation across the state of Oklahoma.

Suby Thakurta from Dell Technologies in Austin, TX, and one of the guest panelists from the 2022 Innovation District Annual Breakfast highlighting artificial intelligence, spoke to the District’s substantive programming and the impact it has the chance to make in the future, and Thakurta’s hopes are the hopes shared by the OKC Innovation District team and all the District’s stakeholders and ecosystem members, because if his hopes come true, Oklahoma City will certainly be front and center on the global innovation stage.

“The OKC Innovation District is truly one of a kind,” Thakurta said. “I am very excited to see the kind of innovation and entrepreneur support programs it continues to run, and I am confident that in the coming years as it continues to run these programs, OKC’s Innovation District will be one of the most revered innovation cubes in the world.”

Thank you to Marcus Jackson, Steve Mason, Brent Smith and Suby Thakurta for their provided quotes from throughout 2022 that contributed to this article, and thank you to each member of the OKCID’s ecosystem who contributed to an event this year! The OKCID could not do what it does without you.

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