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Opinion

Tulsa seeking to bring a bit of the Startup Nation to the American Heartland

The city of Tulsa is undergoing a rapid transformation from an energy center into a diverse tech center

Jonathan 'Yoni' Frenkel 12:5427.10.20

For Israeli startups, the question pre-Covid was choosing between New York or the Bay Area for U.S. market entry. While those lines were well-trodden, cities like Boston and Los Angeles had their place as well within certain verticals, but all that changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. While we’re all still trying to figure out the balance of WFH versus being in an office, the fact is talent, customers, and capital are now decentralized due to the effects of the pandemic. When looking at locations many of the tradeoffs in a big city like New York are no longer relevant. While New York is struggling, emerging startup cities such as Tulsa are on the ascent, throwing their hat into the ring, and seeking to bring a bit of the Startup Nation to the American Heartland.

 

Why Tulsa, why now

 

The city of Tulsa is undergoing a rapid transformation from an energy center into a diverse tech center and a center of excellence in a number of verticals. VCs such as Atento Capital, at which I head partnerships, Oklahoma Life Sciences Fund, and Cortado Ventures are active in funding local startups. Ecosystem partners such as working space 36 Degrees North and the Tulsa Innovation Labs are key stakeholders in helping support the community. As Nicholas Lalla, the Executive Director at the Tulsa Innovation Labs states: "Tulsa Innovation Labs acts as the lead strategist in helping build the Tulsa tech ecosystem. Our areas of focus, and the verticals we see startups in the city excelling in, are virtual health, energy tech, drones, cyber, and analytics."

 

Along with those verticals, Tulsa is also a center for agritech, aerospace, and the city is looking to invest in mobility as well. In Israel, we focus on being excellent in areas such as cybersecurity and drones, but Tulsa has cemented itself as a go-to location in the U.S. for those verticals. The University of Tulsa, a cyber feeder program for organizations like the NSA and HLS, also runs a joint Ph.D. program with cybersecurity foundry Team8. With drone technology, local Native American tribes have created drone corridors on their land such as the Osage Nation’s Skyway 36.

 

Tulsa’s location in the center of the country also offers access to enterprise-level customers and Fortune 500s located in nearby cities; Houston, Denver, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Oklahoma City are a few hours’ drive or one-hour flight away.

 

Jonathan Frenkel, Strategic Partnerships, Atento Capital. Photo: Courtesy Jonathan Frenkel, Strategic Partnerships, Atento Capital. Photo: Courtesy

 

Beyond the coasts

 

Up until recently the lines to places like New York and Sunnyvale were clearly defined, but enterprising Israeli startups who understand where the trends are moving in the U.S. have already set up a presence in the city. Drones startups such as Percepto and SeeTree are located in Tulsa, as is cybersecurity startup Claroty. Local ecosystem partner Atento Capital is invested in those startups as well as in a number of active Israel based VCs including Team8, who are helping further grow the cyber ecosystem in Tulsa.

 

There is an engaged Jewish community in the city, as well as much pro-Israel sentiment in Oklahoma and Tulsa in particular. Founders who find their way to Tulsa will encounter a receptive community to Israeli tech and find that they can take an active role in helping shape the ecosystem.

 

Succeed in Tulsa

 

Tulsa has had tremendous success in developing a remote talent ecosystem through its Tulsa Remote program and is looking to continue that momentum with Israeli startups. The quality of life, a great work-life balance, and a community that is interested in founders’ success have helped focused priorities on what is important during these days as entrepreneurs build their companies. As Ben Stewart, Interim Executive Director of Tulsa Remote says: "Tulsa warmly welcomes Israeli companies to open their offices and hire highly skilled remote workers in the city. We've had success in creating a community of talented remote workers with our Tulsa Remote program, and the city offers access to capital, customers, and a vibrant, supportive community that has your success in mind."

 

Many cities and states offer incentives for startups to open up shop. Tulsa is different in that it has created the foundation for a robust remote worker community during a time where all hiring is remote first. Hiring SDRs, sales, and business development professionals in the U.S. is something that has always been a challenge for Israeli companies. Atento Capital is helping with hiring local remote workers along with highly skilled workforce development programs such as the Holberton School and Satellite.

 

Access to capital, customers, talent, and the desire to help startups succeed is what drives startups’ success in Tulsa, and hiring remote workers is the most immediate aspect of expanding to Tulsa. Tulsa is interested in having Israeli founders move to the city, and succeed in building their businesses.

 

Jonathan 'Yoni' Frenkel heads Partnerships at Atento Capital. He is currently in Israel leading the effort to assist local companies with US market entry in Tulsa, and hire highly skilled remote workers.