Next Stop For The Great Tech Migration: Tulsa

By Jonathan ‘Yoni’ Frenkel

The Great Tech Migration from locations like the Bay Area and New York will likely continue until the summer, when the warm weather and the COVID-19 vaccine’s availability will help us settle into a sense of normalcy.

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As this migration of tech professionals continues, savvy entrepreneurs looking to grow or hire will look to cities that have not been traditionally recognized as startup hot spots. One optimal region that entrepreneurs should not overlook is the American Heartland, which contains such rapidly growing tech ecosystems as Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Innovation rising

The reality is that customers, talent and capital have become decentralized. This has spurred tech professionals to ask themselves the deep questions about work/life balance and quality of life. Many have developed a new appreciation for things like a low cost of living and strong sense of community — both of which cities in the Heartland can offer.

Jonathan ‘Yoni’ Frenkel of Atento Capital

As evidenced by initiatives like Steve Case’s The Rise of the Rest, there is a growing focus on the center of the country as leading the growth of tech. Tulsa, for instance, is moving from an energy hub to one focused on verticals like cyber, drones, new energy, virtual health and Industry 4.0.

Most people don’t associate Tulsa with innovation, but the city’s ecosystem has been developing over the course of many years — and COVID has only accelerated that transformation. Tulsa and other cities of the future will find success through excellence in specific industries, not by trying to turn themselves into Silicon Valley duplicates.

The ecosystem

An ecosystem cannot grow without a robust venture community fueling that growth, and there are a number of active VCs in Tulsa, such as Cortado Ventures, Oklahoma Life Sciences Fund and i2E.

Initiatives like inTulsa support the local ecosystem and fuel the growth of the Tulsa economy by bringing jobs to town. As Tulsa’s entrepreneurs focus on building their companies, they are also actively contributing to building the city’s ecosystem.

From a talent perspective, local programs like Tulsa Remote have helped cement the city as a great place to live and work by bringing in individuals from a wide range of top-tier employers like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Uber and Facebook with a wide range of skill sets and backgrounds.

Meanwhile, programs like the Tulsa Innovation Labs, the Holberton School, sales development program Satellite, and cybersecurity foundry Team8’s Ph.D. cybersecurity program at the University of Tulsa are training local talent.

This is helping to position Tulsa as a national hub for talent trained to fill high-demand roles in technology including sales, engineering, data science, cybersecurity and customer success. And of course, all this is being accomplished without much fanfare, in the classic low-key Midwestern fashion.

Devon Laney, CEO of 36 Degrees North, Tulsa’s foremost coworking hub and community center, puts it best: “With the growth of an experienced technology workforce and greater sources of seed capital, along with community investment in infrastructure, programs, and access to resources for entrepreneurs, Tulsa is experiencing a renaissance that makes it an ideal place to start or grow a business.”

Life post-COVID

Some on the coasts still scoff at the “fly-over” states, but cities in the Heartland are on the ascent — and the focus on community as a central value is a real selling point. If COVID has shown us anything, it is just how fundamental community is to our well-being.

Given that the vice grip held by major cities on talent, capital and customers is weakening, workers must ask themselves this: If I can live and work from anywhere, why not choose a place with strong community values and plenty of opportunity?

As opportunities become more widespread and work from home becomes the norm, many are questioning the approach to living in coastal cities. For better or for worse, the big tech cities are losing their luster, and smaller, up-and-coming cities like Tulsa are becoming all the more enticing.

Yoni Frenkel heads partnerships at Atento Capital. He is currently in Israel leading the effort to assist local companies with hiring highly skilled remote workers in Tulsa.

Rachel Stromberg assisted in the writing and editing of this piece.

Photo of the Tulsa skyline courtesy of the City of Tulsa Communications Department.

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