Tulsa Innovation Labs nurtures tech ecosystem

Conor Godfrey, manager of the Cyber & Analytics at Tulsa Innovation Labs

The mission of Tulsa Innovation Labs (TIL) is to position Tulsa, Oklahoma as a tech hub and leader in the future of work. It is also focused on creating long-term and sustainable opportunities for Tulsans. We spoke to Conor Godfrey, manager of the cyber & analytics leg of TIL’s five-sector concentration, about his role and the plans for Tulsa.

Tell us about Tulsa Innovations Labs.

Godfrey: Tulsa has been an oil town for 100 years. I think there are a lot of smart people thinking about the next 100 years in Tulsa in regard to how we’re going to create future-proof, tech-led jobs accessible to all Tulsans. Tulsa Innovation Labs was set up to both generate and execute on a blueprint for exactly that. I’m responsible for managing our ecosystem investments inside cyber and analytics.

What does that blueprint look like?

Godfrey: We put out a report titled Tulsa Tech Niche Report, which lays out five sectors. The industry verticals are virtual health (given that we are a rural state, this is important); advanced aerial mobility (think drone tech and testing); and energy. On the cross-cutting side, we have cyber. When I say ‘cyber,’ I mean the big tent — everything from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, but with a focus on cybersecurity and information security. Lastly is analytics, which is a kind of enabler in terms of capturing reams of data available to us now.

What brought you to Tulsa?

Godfrey: For the last 15 years, I’ve either been abroad or in Washington, D.C., focused on managing programs in national security and counterterrorism. My wife has roots in Tulsa, so we moved here in April. We moved here on what I like to call ‘Thesis Tulsa,’ which means this is an up-and-coming tech hub, with space for ambitious thriving leaders.

What does your job entail?

Godfrey: In terms of my day-to-day job, it’s about understanding Tulsa’s cyber and analytics capabilities as they exist today. It’s also about understanding what the obstacles are to exponential growth of those capabilities. We have a number of energy, aviation and healthcare corporations that have real cyber challenges. The key obstacle is talent. Who is the best partner in Tulsa to drive Workforce Development Initiatives? What is the appropriate scale? How do we leverage philanthropic capital with existing corporate expertise? How do we manage our academic innovation ecosystem to ensure that the talent that we’re creating is employable and can feed the economy? How do we make it equitable?

Our Cyber & Analytics Skills Center (CAC) focuses on making sure that all Tulsans have access to the new economy. Tulsa is consciously building in the shadow of Black Wall Street, and TIL is privileged to partner with a number of diverse tech leaders and organizations in thinking through [the city’s] tech future.

That’s just one example of identifying a blockage on corporate and economic growth and then identifying partners and scaling up a solution to solve that particular problem. I think that’s repeated across a number of different areas.

How do you carry out your cybersecurity talent plan?

Godfrey: We have three big categories of tools in our toolbox. One is to increase academic innovation. The University of Tulsa is our intellectual capital when it comes to cybersecurity. U.S. News & World Report ranked the school in the top 25 universities nationwide in cybersecurity. On the workforce development side, we also have the Holberton Tulsa campus, a tuition-deferred college alternative for training software engineers.

We’re putting a dent in the delta between where our corporations are in terms of hiring and the talent available in Tulsa. Over the next three years, we’ll be churning out hundreds of qualified cyber graduates at a variety of levels, from entry-level and network engineering all the way to the next generation of national cyber leaders working on cutting edge tech.

People look at Pittsburgh as a robotics capital now. Do you want Tulsa to be that city for cybersecurity?

Godfrey: I think that’s an excellent comparison. Pittsburgh is an attractive analogy in terms of the loss of a legacy industry, partnerships between local corporations, academia and philanthropy—  really kind of a mapping out a tech lead growth plan and having all three of those types of partners execute on it.

To be honest, Tulsa is not trying to be some other city. We want to be Tulsa 2.0.