OMES, OCAST partner to match tech entrepreneurs with state’s need

Published: Wednesday, January 10, 2018 By: Sarah Terry-Cobo Source: The Journal Record

Dustin Crossfield wants to be the first customer of Oklahoma tech startup firms.

The director of technology services with the Office of Management and Enterprise Services has partnered with a nonprofit organization to help software developers get a boost and improve Oklahoma state government websites. But he has to first find the entrepreneurs.

Erika Lucas, CEO of StitchCrew, a consulting firm that helps tech startups get off the ground, said there is talent in the Oklahoma City market, but much of it is underground.

OMES took over information technology services for state agencies several years ago and inherited outdated websites and less-than-functional software operating systems. Crossfield has about $170 million each year to spend on operations and maintenance.

And he wants to try something different with just 5 percent of that regular budget. He wants to spend $8.5 million to purchase software as a service from Oklahoma-based companies.

A few months ago the agency launched, where entrepreneurs can submit ideas for how their products would solve problems with agency websites or make things more efficient. If someone wanted to develop an online-only way to renew a driver’s license, he or she could submit the platform to OMES.

Lucas’ company helps foster startups by connecting local venture capitalists with tech developers. They often have great ideas but need help adjusting their business model to scale up to the next level. So she connects them with intellectual property attorneys and others who can ensure those entrepreneurs hit their milestones to advance their business.

The biggest problem in Oklahoma is that the majority of small-business-assistance programs aren’t geared toward software or technology, she said. The strategy for those information-based firms is different than a real estate business or an oil and gas company.

“There is an underground community helping founders go through the formation of their business,” Lucas said. “Technology (business startups) is relatively new to Oklahoma and it is riskier, so venture capitalists tend to shy away from that.”

Michael Carolina’s organization is working with Crossfield to help find those entrepreneurs and screen applicants. The executive director of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology said he’s excited to partner with OMES to identify bright people to solve the state’s pressing computer problems.

Carolina’s group can act like a matchmaker for the pitches Crossfield gets. The nonprofit vets ideas and ensures that they are consistent with what the agency is seeking. Ideally the tech startup could get up and running in 45 days, Crossfield said.

And since OCAST isn’t a government agency, then there is less red tape when it comes to the request-for-proposal process. Crossfield said the government purchasing rules are important and he’s not trying to circumvent that process.

“Oklahoma feels like it’s on the cusp of a small tech community that could pop and it needs that extra push,” he said. “For (residents) of the state, if I had a choice of a large company from Chicago or the same or better product from a locally owned business, we want to help them get started.”

But the goal isn’t to be a startup’s only customer, just the first customer. In February he will be seeking input directly from agency staff members on what IT challenges need to be solved.

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