A trip south, innovation for kids and some cool software stories
A new kind of energy
January 15, 2020
WHEELS DOWN: TULSA, OK
Photo courtesy wikimedia
Tulsa takes its name from a Creek word meaning “old town,” but these days there may be more new than old in Oklahoma’s second-largest city. The city that once called itself the Oil Capital of the World now boasts of a diversified economy where aviation, technology, telecom and finance have joined energy as key sectors.
But Tulsa isn’t all business—far from it. This city along the Arkansas River houses world-class art museums, cultural centers, sports facilities and parks (more on that in a moment) that have helped make it one of America’s most livable large cities.
A key driver in the city’s growth is Tulsa’s Future, an ongoing public-private regional economic development plan led by the Tulsa Regional Chamber. Partners include the City of Tulsa, 201 private investors and a slew of other regional and tribal entities. Now in its third phase (which runs 2016-2020), the plan seeks to create four things: a prosperous future (e.g., more jobs and capital investment), a skilled future (e.g., better educated workers), an innovative future (e.g., promotion of entrepreneurship and small business) and a livable future (e.g., investment in downtown and livability).
Since 2005, Tulsa’s Future has supported the creation of 69,249 jobs. Last year alone, it helped create 2,609 jobs and generate $829 million in capital investment. Among the big wins in 2019 was the addition of 615 jobs at American Airlines’ Tulsa maintenance facility. (With 3.3 million square feet of buildings across 330 acres, it’s the largest such facility in the world.)
“American Airlines' continued investment in the region, as well as per capita income growth, are reflective of a strong regional workforce,” Bill Murphy, senior vice president of economic development for the Tulsa Regional Chamber, said in a press release. “Tulsa’s ranking as one of the best places to start a business is a testament to our continued economic development efforts.”
Like many cities, Tulsa is working to make its downtown a better place to live, work and play. In 2018, the city opened Gathering Place, a 66-acre downtown park that features playgrounds, trails, gardens, sports facilities, public art and restaurants—more than 100 attractions in all. It’s the largest public park ever built with private funds—Tulsa native and philanthropist George Kaiser led the way—and offers something for people of all ages and interests, as well as those with a range of disabilities.
In 2019 Time magazine named Gathering Place one of the 100 greatest places to visit, putting it on the same list as Disneyland’s new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge attraction. USA Today named it America’s best new attraction.
Becoming World Class
Under Mayor (and lifelong Tulsan) G.T. Bynum, the old Oil Capital of the World is working to become a globally-competitive, world-class city by improving safety, increasing economic opportunity and empowering the current generation to build the city they want to leave to the next generation.
As the mayor said in his most recent State of the City address, “Tulsa is a city where we help one another achieve our dreams. Whether your dream is owning your own business or improving yourself or seeing your family succeed—or all of those things—in Tulsa, when we know one of our neighbors has a dream we help them reach it.”
New tech lets visually impaired kids create code
Image courtesy American Printing House for the Blind
Visitors at CES this year got to see a product that makes coding accessible for visually impaired children, aged 7-11. Called Code Jumper, the educational toy was designed by Microsoft and developed by the American Printing House for the Blind located in Louisville, KY.
It uses bright-colored plastic pods and components students can identify by touch to help kids learn basic programming concepts so they can create computer code that can tell stories or make music. The product, which won Best of Innovation: Accessibility at CES, can teach children regardless of their level of vision or computer coding skills.
The American Printing House for the Blind has operated since 1848 in Louisville, Kentucky as the world’s largest nonprofit organization creating accessible learning experiences through educational, workplace, and independent living products and services for people who are blind and visually impaired. It’s a prime example of an old institution that is always innovating to improve people’s lives.
KC’s My Bear Jeff aims to comfort traumatized kids
Rachel Cohen is no stranger to childhood trauma. When she was four, she had to undergo rare and risky surgery for a heart condition. Later in life, she went to Southeast Asia and worked with children who were “dealing with extreme trauma every day.”
After she returned to her hometown of Kansas City, she began thinking about ways to ease trauma for kids in the US. Estimates on the number of children who suffer from trauma every year range from 35 to 46 million. Trauma can include “child abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), witness/victim of violence, neglect, substance abuse in the home, bullying in school, grief, war/terrorism, medical trauma, mental illness or separation from loved ones.”
Cohen devised a plan to provide traumatized children with a teddy bear, using a buy one/donate one model. For each bear that’s purchased, a second bear will be given to a child who needs a “transitional object” to help them through their bad experience. Cohen has partnered with several nonprofits to distribute the donated bears.
If the project meets its Kickstarter goal, teddy bear production will begin this month. Then starting in May, the bears will be delivered to their purchasers—and to the kids who need comfort and support during tough times.
Ann Arbor pilots Ford City Insights platform
All of those stories about the glorious future of driving can be frustrating when you’re stuck in traffic every day. Clearly, until our robot chauffeurs take the wheel for good, we need some help now. To address that need, Ford has announced a new artificial intelligence platform designed to help cities solve traffic problems. The platform, City Insights, uses data to tackle urban driving problems like parking, safety, and last-mile transit. The pilot program kicked off in Ann Arbor, where Ford and city officials analyzed data for the past 18 months.
City Insights uses existing data from sources like traffic cameras, parking garages, and police reports to predict where accidents are likely to occur, where parking spots are available, and where to add shuttles or scooters. The software also takes advantage of data from drivers who’ve opted into a data-sharing program to analyze braking patterns and other data.
Arthur Ventures closes on $155 million fund for backing software startups in the Midwest
Minneapolis VC Arthur Ventures has raised $155 million to back software startups in Flyover Country. That tally includes a core fund of $125 million to invest in new startups, plus an “opportunity” fund of $30 million to provide follow-up funding to companies already in its portfolio. Three quarters of the investment comes from institutional investors, including pension funds, university endowments, and nonprofit foundations.
How hot is the startup climate in flyover states? This hot: Arthur Ventures raised the $155 million in just five months.
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