“Innovation” is more than just a business buzzword. It is rapidly becoming an important component in order to stay current in national — and global — business circles. Innovation is becoming apparent across Oklahoma whether through the establishment of innovation districts or through applications in emerging technologies.
What is an innovation district?
An innovation district, or community, is generally a development based on the belief that economic stimulation, employment growth, and healthy transformation can be promoted through the clustering of businesses, institutions and people. The relative proximity of an innovation district allows people to effectively collaborate and develop partnerships, and in many cases, increased productivity, creativity and growth are results.
Oklahoma City innovation district
Oklahoma City’s civic and community leaders are in the midst of developing an innovation district. In fall 2015, thanks to a partnership of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, Presbyterian Health Foundation, Oklahoma Health Center Foundation and the Alliance for Economic Development, funding became available to retain the Brookings Institution to lead the process of planning and development.
After several months of onsite observations, evaluation of existing infrastructure, compilation and study of population trends and demographics, an overview of physical assets, and personal interviews with many stakeholders, the Brookings Institution presented their initial findings in February 2016.
Carl Edwards, chairman, Presbyterian Health Foundation, explained the proposed location. “We are looking at the area between the Health Center and Automobile Alley — a place where people would like to work, play and live, and do all that in the same general area.”
It is anticipated that the district will serve as a foundation for medical, technology and scientific businesses.
The Brookings Institution and Project for Public Spaces will complete the study.
Updates on news and developments related to the innovation district can be found on a new website, www.okcinnovation.com.
Battery life cycle management
Battery life cycle management may sound rather mundane, but names can belie such a growing and prosperous endeavor.
Spiers New Technologies (SNT), located in Oklahoma City, services advanced storage packs normally used in automobiles and solar energy storage cells.
Utilizing proprietary algorithms, employees can determine if a specific car battery, for example, is sufficiently strong to continue for driving purposes or would be best converted to another productive use.
According to Dirk Spiers, president and CEO, SNT is a leader in this industry and the remarkable growth of his business is prime evidence.
“Business has been crazy. We opened our doors early 2015 and have rapidly grown since,” says Spiers. “We went from one employee to 35 in about 18 months and will probably pass 50 by year’s end.”
SNT is even looking to grow internationally. “We are looking to open up facilities in China and Europe. We have global technologies and solutions for global customers. We have to grow where our markets and customers are,” Spiers explains.
Recycling precious metals
Duncan Recycling and Refining (DR2) has found a niche in the recovery of precious metals from catalytic converters in automobiles.
“We had our ribbon-cutting in April and officially started production in early May 2016. The plant will have the capability to process 7,000 catalytic converters per day, “ says David Nichols, president, DR2.
Once the precious metals have been recovered, they can either be resold or reused in a variety of products.
DR2 signed a deal with Tetronics International to use its plasma art technology in the recovery process.
Nichols also has good news regarding employment growth.
“When it is fully operational, the plant will help bring jobs to the area, which start at around one-and-a-half times the average salary in the area plus carry full benefits.”
3D printing technology
One of the hottest topics in emerging technologies is 3D printing.
The Hardesty Center for Fab Lab Tulsa is a not-for-profit, community-based lab. Fab Lab Tulsa provides community access to advanced manufacturing and digital fabrication tools for learning skills, developing inventions, creating businesses and producing personalized products.
Such advanced 3D printing systems are typically not accessible to the average person, but Fab Lab, through its membership format, provides access with a reasonable fee structure.
The lab attracts all types, all ages, and all levels of clients, ranging from artists to engineers to entrepreneurs to hobbyists.
Nathan Pritchett, executive director of the Fab Lab, describes the process as “taking a blank sheet of paper” to create just about anything one can imagine. The lab is going on five years in operation and is enjoying exceptional growth.
“The last year to 18 months, we’ve enjoyed massive growth of some 30 to 40 percent,” says Pritchett.
Photo of the Oklahoma Innovation District courtesy of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.