Tulsa to secure U.S. position as global tech leader with $51M award - The University of Tulsa
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Tulsa to secure U.S. position as global tech leader with $51M award

The Biden-Harris administration and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) has awarded approximately $51 million to the Tulsa Hub for Equitable and Trustworthy Autonomy (THETA) – a consortium led by Tulsa Innovation Labs – to strengthen the region’s capacity in autonomous systems through advanced manufacturing and deployment of technologies critical to the future of national and economic security. Tulsa is one of 12 Tech Hubs awarded funding out of the 31 regions to receive “Tech Hub” designations last fall.

Tulsa’s legacy of innovation, extensive assets, and federal investment, including the Greater Tulsa Region’s 2022 EDA Build Back Better Regional Challenge award, enables the region to advance U.S. global leadership in trustworthy and equitable autonomous systems – such as uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) and autonomous vehicles, drones, and robotics – with use cases ranging from agriculture and pipeline inspections to regional transportation.​​

“Tulsa Innovation Labs has long believed there is no city in the country as well-equipped to lead this next era of industrial innovation as Tulsa,” said Jennifer Hankins, managing director of Tulsa Innovation Labs, an initiative of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. “With a legacy shaped by aerospace and manufacturing, Tulsa is pioneering the future of innovation. In partnership with Osage Nation, Cherokee Nation, Black Tech Street, and others, our community is ready to lead the way developing these technologies with a commitment to security and trustworthiness, ensuring the benefits and jobs are widely accessible.”

With the EDA’s Tech Hubs funding, the Greater Tulsa Region is set to stake a claim on the $1.36 trillion global autonomous systems market and create up to 56,000 equitable new jobs in the next decade. Innovations in this industry – whether protecting Americans on the battlefield or delivering medicine to rural communities – are critical to the future of U.S. economic competitiveness and national security. This funding ensures these technological marvels are “Tested and Made in Tulsa, USA.”

Innovations in autonomous technologies across commercial and defense use cases are critical to the future of U.S. economic competitiveness and national security. Tulsa will leverage this award to support six projects that are:

  • Increasing coordination on commercialization strategies among universities and the startups they support;
  • Building a state-of-the-art testing and simulation environment with a focus on cyber and data management for companies, researchers, and regulatory entities to address barriers to commercial adoption;
  • Developing programs to identify opportunities for manufacturers in trustworthy and equitable autonomous systems supply chains and building out a manufacturing demonstration center where small companies can scale their capabilities;
  • Creating an AI Center of Excellence to expand opportunities and increase exposure to technology for underserved communities;
  • Expanding workforce programs to align training with industry needs, provide upskilling, and offer on-the-job training opportunities; and
  • Establishing governance structures to execute projects, pursue additional funding, and drive the Tech Hub’s strategy.

The final grant amount will be finalized in the coming months.

Brad R. Carson
Brad Carson

“The cybersecurity of autonomous systems is crucial to our national security and commercial landscape,” said University of Tulsa President Brad Carson. “UTulsa has been a leader in cyber education and research for more than two decades. Tech Hubs funding would allow us to amplify our university’s contributions and expertise to create the country’s leading Green UAS certification program and bolster collaboration across our regional institutions.”

THETA was co-led by a steering committing including The University of Tulsa, Black Tech Street, Cherokee Nation Businesses, L3Harris Aeromet, Madison Strategies Group, NORDAM, Oklahoma State University, Osage LLC, PartnerTulsa, Radius Capital, Tulsa Community College, and Tulsa Economic Development Corporation.

Rose Gamble

“With our established expertise in cybersecurity and the new Oklahoma Cyber Innovation Institute, UTulsa is well-positioned to deliver R&D outcomes that contribute to THETA. We also recently launched the Institute for Robotics & Autonomy to explore the intersection of robotics, AI, autonomy, and human-machine teaming. These two dynamic institutes will partner with THETA consortium members to further bolster the city’s reputation as a global leader in technology and cyber studies,” said Rose Gamble, vice president for research and economic development at UTulsa.

“We’re always excited to see a project such as THETA that improves the regional economy and has the potential to help Cherokee Nation Businesses expand into the autonomous systems and component manufacturing industry, support growing defense and commercial needs, and shore up critical supply chains,” said Chuck Garrett, chief executive officer of Cherokee Nation Businesses, LLC. “This project coincides with Cherokee Nation’s approach to improve the lives of its citizens and strengthen the regional economy of northeastern Oklahoma.”

“The Greenwood AI/AS Center of Excellence (G-ACE) opens the door for Black Tulsans to secure good jobs in tech,” said Tyrance Billingsley II, founder and executive director of Black Tech Street. “The Black Tech Street vision is to rebirth Black Wall Street into the world’s premier Black innovation economy. Putting G-ACE in the Historic Greenwood District honors the legacy of this neighborhood, and with Microsoft’s partnership we are delivering on the BTS mission to catalyze Black wealth creation in the Greater Tulsa Region and beyond.”

“Osage LLC’s commitment to the growth and success of the region is evident through our track record of successful collaboration with several THETA partners and our development at Skyway 36,” said Russell Goff, chief executive officer of Osage LLC, an economic development engine of the Osage Nation. “We’re thrilled to continue this important work through THETA’s SAFE-T project, which will create additional research and development opportunities, further increasing the attractiveness of our region to drone and autonomous systems companies.”

Tulsa’s award is part of the EDA Tech Hubs program, a historic $500 million investment in technologies critical to national security and U.S. economic competitiveness. The program challenged regions to bring together a diverse coalition of partners. The consortium that participated in the THETA proposal includes more than 75 partners across public and private sectors.

“A diverse, resilient and inclusive industry base that harnesses the talents of many ensures that benefits are shared widely,” said Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation. “Thanks to the leadership of Tulsa Innovation Labs and to visionary partners such as the EDA, this investment in Tulsa’s regional economy will amplify our local efforts to ensure Tulsa is a thriving community that affords opportunities to all.”

Learn more about THETA and see a full list of partners at TechHubTulsa.com.