Scott Phillips, Cofounder of Civic Ninjas on Creating Grassroots Innovation

May 26, 2017

7:00 pm

Scott Phillips, cofounder of Civic Ninjas, Ignite Tulsa, and Startup Weekend Tulsa, a leader in the Tulsa community is all about putting education first to build the talent workforce and solving municipal problems with technology. This time for the #StartupsEverywhere, series, he talks with me about creating grassroots innovation, open data policy, education and activating “The Third Wave” in his ecosystem.

What’s your role in the Tulsa startup ecosystem?

I wear a lot of hats in Tulsa, but I like to say that I enable serendipity. My goal is essentially to facilitate various types of creative collisions that result in innovation. I have spent several years experimenting with, developing, and creating a grassroots innovation and technology community in Tulsa. This community has grown into what I believe is one of the world’s premier early stage entrepreneur ecosystems.

Right now, a lot of my efforts are focused on Civic Ninjas, which I founded. Our primary objective at Civic Ninjas is to solve community and municipal problems through technology. We are driven by an underlying belief that community makes the world possible.The most important part of our work is our commitment to making a difference in people’s lives, opportunities, and communities.

In addition to Civic Ninjas, I also cofounded Ignite Tulsa, Startup Weekend Tulsa, Tulsa Web Devs, Code for Tulsa, Fab Lab Tulsa, and Maker Faire Tulsa.

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Talk about the exciting things that happened in 2016.

2016 was an exciting year in Tulsa as we finally saw the opening of 36˚ North, Tulsa’s first, large scale, community supported co-working facility. 36˚ North goes way beyond coworking and has emerged as an entrepreneurial hub helping to build community and amplify success at all levels.

What is the biggest challenge facing the Tulsa ecosystem?

The biggest challenge Tulsa (and other fly over cities) face is talent. As early-stage startups attempt to scale, they often struggle to find and attract technologists and software developers. We have to find a way to fix this or we are not going to be able to compete with other ecosystems. In my mind, our education system holds the solution to our talent problems. We need to put STEM front and center to help create a tech savvy workforce that is well prepared for the 21st century.

What are some of the unique features of Tulsa’s startup community?

In addition to the grassroots, organic evolution of our startup community, we have a strong focus on the maker movement and physical product innovation. This is a testament to Tulsa’s historic strength around industrial scale innovation in the energy and aerospace industries.

How has the open-data policy benefited the Tulsa community?

Under my prodding, Tulsa was one of the first cities in the country to pass an open data policy. We were fortunate to have worked with GT Bynum, a forward-thinking city councilor, who is now Tulsa’s mayor, to make this happen. This open data policy has directly led to the establishment of many early-stage startups that are focused on the government space. HAU.AI is doing some great work in this space as a pioneer using machine learning and social determinates of health (SDOH) data to improve community health outcomes and lower costs. Moreover, the willingness of the city council and other municipal leaders to embrace open data has further empowered Tulsa’s tech community.

Talk about your focus on “The Third Wave” for Tulsa.

We are very focused on the Internet’s Third Wave and have several efforts focused on amplifying opportunities. The Third Wave, a phrase coined by AOL founder, Steve Case, describes how the internet and technology hold the potential to completely disrupt existing industries like energy, healthcare, education and transportation.

Smart Cities and the Internet of Things (IoT) are the heart of the Third Wave, but come with a unique set of challenges. Among them, is the need to rethink where innovation happens. Traditional startup workspaces—desks, basements and garages—simply won’t be able to continue to foster this kind of innovation. In response, we are pioneering facilities that can support entrepreneurs well into the future. These are large, industrial scale facilities that push way beyond typical maker spaces by providing a melting pot of people, resources and opportunity that the next generation of Third Wave companies will need to succeed. For them to succeed though, it will require tremendous community and government support. We are currently working on creating pathways to engage partners at the federal, state, and local level.

What are some of the startups to watch coming out of Tulsa?

Many of Tulsa’s future successes are very early-stage startups today. Some of my favorites include:

  • RotorWidgets, a company developing high end racing drones.
  • Infinite Composites, a company developing ultra lightweight carbon fiber tanks for the aerospace industry including SpaceX.
  • WellHub, a company developing virtual reality well log visualization tools for the oil industry.

Read more about ecosystems around the country at Tech.Co

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Emma Peck is a policy analyst at Engine, a nonprofit that supports the growth of technology entrepreneurship through economic research, policy analysis and advocacy on local and national issues.

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