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AJF News

Economic Development in Ada: Rural Innovation

1/24/2022 by Jessika Leatherbury
Tags: Ada Jobs Foundation, digital economy, entrepreneurship, technology

This is the second part of a series of articles explaining the work, programs, and impact by the Ada Jobs Foundation. You can find the first article here.

As part of our work to create new economic development, the Ada Jobs Foundation has a keen focus on Rural Innovation. This is a term that broadly covers our work to support new entrepreneurship, technology creation, and the digital economy in our rural region outside of a metropolitan area. In particular, these efforts support the people who are creating new startups, developing new technologies, and those working in a technology field.

This is an important pillar of our economic development work. It is how we help the next generation of businesses in our community, ensuring there are quality jobs over the next 10 to 30 years. Developing and implementing new technologies allows our local companies to have more control over their own fate and makes our economy more resilient to outside shocks, as we’re not as dependent on the decisions of outside management or those who own technologies outside of our area. 

To help explain our work in this area, we will highlight the key areas of this work to support Rural Innovation: 

Entrepreneurship Support

These programs are designed to help support entrepreneurs in our area. We sometimes characterize this work as “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Development” because we recognize that entrepreneurs need a wide-range of supportive services, funding, and social interaction. The network of these resources in a community can often be compared to a kind of “ecosystem” for entrepreneurship. All of these programs are funded through a mix of sources, including the City of Ada’s Proposition 2, private sponsorships, and, in the case of Build to Scale and the USDA Rise Grant, federal grant award funding.

  • The Startup Ada Bootcamp is a program to help entrepreneurs go from an idea-stage for a company to being ready to pitch to an investor or company. The Startup Ada Bootcamp is a 6-week crash course in creating a business, and it was recognized by IEDC in 2020 with a “Silver” Excellence in Economic Development award. Over 17 startups in Ada have participated in this program since it was launched in 2019.

  • Big Pitch Ada is a regional pitch competition that allows startups the opportunity to pitch before an expert panel and compete to win cash for the best pitch. This event builds on an established model to help entrepreneurs gain valuable experience in a supportive setting and provides an opportunity for the community to learn more about startups in the Ada-area.

  • The US Economic Development Administration awarded the Ada Jobs Foundation with a $583k Build to Scale grant award to carry out programs that will create new scalable technology startups in the Ada and Southern Oklahoma Region. The $1.1M program will create a technology startup accelerator program, new events, and opportunities for investors to connect to tech startups in the region. This program will address the need for a steady supply of new tech startups in our region, and this is one of the most difficult parts of rural entrepreneurship programs to overcome when seeking to attract investors and program funding.

  • A new innovation center is being planned in partnership with the City of Ada. Initial funding for this new center is being funded through a USDA RISE Grant award, which will allow the City of Ada to begin the first phase of construction to renovate the former Ada Central Fire Station in downtown Ada. The innovation center will be a hub for new programs to support entrepreneurs, networking events, technology demonstrations, and digital skilling courses.


New Technology Development 

The Ada Jobs Foundation is also focused on supporting the creation of new technology through supporting private research and development and the commercialization of scientific research. One of the key opportunities identified is the creation of a water innovation cluster. Since 2016, funds from Proposition 2 have been used to support the establishment of the Oka’ Water Research Institute at East Central University, and the Ada Jobs Foundation has facilitated meetings of the City of Ada’s Water Cluster Development Committee. Future work in this area will focus on creating opportunities for scientific researchers in the area to commercialize new water technologies and to support the R&D of new technologies from other industries. 


Digital Economy

The digital economy is the collection of local jobs and companies working in areas of technology, IT, and data, and this sector represents some of the highest paid jobs in our state with the most potential for growth in the future. Digital jobs can range from IT support jobs, to software coding and development, to digital marketing, to data analysis. The range of work is huge and many people working in this sector have opportunities to carry out there work remotely while living in Ada.

We are supporting this sector by supporting new workforce development opportunities, focusing on retaining our technology talent, and supporting broadband infrastructure needed for this work. Since 2020, we have piloted a technology “nano degree” program in partnership with Udacity and the Center on Rural Innovation. 7 Nano degree scholarships have been awarded to people in our region. We are working to promote the awareness of career pathways in these areas and to drive more students into digital skilling programs at Pontotoc Technology Center and computer science programs at East Central University. Finally, the Ada Jobs Foundation has identified a long-term goal to connect every resident in Pontotoc County with a fiber internet connection and we are working with local governments, utilities, and fiber providers to expand this infrastructure into the future.


Key Partners

This work relies on key partnerships to move forward. We count on local partners to carry out this work, including the East Central University Stonecipher School of Business and Pontotoc Technology Center. In the region, we also have the opportunity to connect our startups to programs offered through Rural Enterprises of Oklahoma and the Chickasaw Nation’s Small Business Development Center. At the state level, we utilize the Oklahoma Innovation Model to bring programs, grants, and supportive services to our companies.

We are also a member of the Rural Innovation Network, a nation-wide community 25 rural communities. The Rural Innovation Network was launched by the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) and we have worked with CORI on numerous initiatives to develop a local strategy, apply to the Build to Scale grant, and to profile our local innovators in their “Portraits of a Community” series. We are passionate about bringing the opportunities of new technology and the benefits of supporting new startups to all communities and we are proud to be a member of a network that understands the unique and exciting opportunities of working in regions like Ada.


The Takeaway

  • Rural Innovation is a crucial economic development strategy that incorporates entrepreneurship support, technology innovation, and developing the digital economy in rural communities.

  • The Ada Jobs Foundation is aggressively pursuing new programs and opportunities in this area with over $1M in new federal grant awards.

  • This work relies on local, state, and national partnerships and our local businesses have the opportunity to benefit from being able to access these networks.