A year ago, the fifth floor of One Technology Center was empty. Late Tuesday afternoon, it was abuzz with people, fizzy drinks and the promise of better days ahead.
For the city of Tulsa, which owns the building and calls it home to City Hall, it was a good day — and one long in the making.
Mayor G.T. Bynum said he and his staff — with the cooperation of the City Council — have been working for several years to turn the space into a place where the next generation of Tulsa entrepreneurs could come together and build their businesses.
That place is the 36 Degrees North business incubator. And Tuesday was its official grand opening in One Technology Center.
“This is going to be a historic space in this building,” Bynum said. “There are people who are going to create businesses on this floor that my kids and other people’s kids are going to be working for years from now … because of the people who are coming here, sharing ideas and learning how to launch the next generation of great companies.”
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The business incubator, which will focus on fostering high-growth technology and tech-enabled companies, is the third iteration of 36 Degrees North. The nonprofit began operations in 2016 with its Base Camp co-working space in the Arts District and has since added a second co-working space, Camp II.
Devon Laney, president and CEO of 36 Degrees North, said the organization’s more than 1,200 members have already generated more than $375 million in direct economic impact.
“At capacity, we expect this incubator to house over 30 companies, create over 250 jobs and generate millions in annual economic impact,” Laney said.
The incubator is about more than a remodeled space that offers a casual setting and an innovative floor plan, Laney said.
“This program provides flexibility, resources, programming and the accountability entrepreneurs need to grow startup companies, create jobs and drive economic impact right here in the Tulsa region,” Laney said.
Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell said programs like the business incubator are crucial to the state’s long-term development.
“We will go across the country and tell the world how amazing of a state Oklahoma is, but for us to build the kind of state we want, it is going to start and really be accomplished with entrepreneurs that are already right here in this city and across our 76 other counties,” Pinnell said.
36 Degrees North was established by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation, Tulsa Regional Chamber, Tulsa Tech and other partners.
Bynum said he was proud and pleased that the public sector could also play a role in that effort. In the wake of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the city provided $1.25 million in CARES Act funding to help 36 Degrees North reconfigure and furnish the 50,000-square-foot fifth-floor space.
But it’s money that isn’t necessarily gone forever. 36 Degrees North’s rent — approximately $480,000 a year over three years — will be placed in the city’s CARES Act account, where it will be used to fund other pandemic-relief projects.
“So everybody wins,” Bynum said.