Forbes is not a big fan of starting a business in Oklahoma.
In a list that’s bound to trigger groans in some parts of the country, inflated egos in others, and plenty of data misunderstandings — Oklahoma is 42nd on the “Best States to Start a Business in 2023.”
But how accurate is a list like that? What factors are left out? Is Oklahoma — birthplace of businesses like Continental Resources, Love’s Travel Stops, Sonic, Paycom and more — really a bad place to start a business?
Not exactly, according to local entrepreneurs and venture capitalists familiar with the process of launching new businesses in Oklahoma.
Forbes based its ranking on “18 key metrics in five categories” to determine which states are the best, or worst. The five broad categories include business costs, business climate, financial accessibility, economy and workforce.
In three of the five categories, Oklahoma actually scored in the median level among all states (business costs, business climate and economy). But a poor showing on financial accessibility and a slightly-below-median score on workforce rankings dragged the state down.
There’s definitely work to be done, Erika Lucas says, but she sees little merit in lists like the one made by Forbes.
“I don’t think entrepreneurs or established businesses look at these listings and then say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to be in Oklahoma,'” Lucas said.
Lucas is a co-founder of StitchCrew — a firm dedicated to connecting entrepreneurs with resources and networks to further boost their businesses. Among StitchCrew’s earliest projects is Thunder Launchpad, a business “accelerator” workspace that began in partnership with the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team in 2018.
He is now working on a local project to help launch Latino-owned businesses into seven-figure incomes.
Funding continues to be an issue for Oklahoma businesses and entrepreneurs
Oklahoma scored lowest in financial accessibility, according to Forbes. This has been a problem for years, according to individuals like Lucas, but work is being done to improve the situation.
Nathaniel Harding, of Cortado Ventures, is working with his company to raise capital and invest it in several Oklahoma-based ventures. He has seen a huge amount of progress in recent years, but still has a long way to go.
“Compared to just a few years ago, there is about 10 times the amount of private organized capital in Oklahoma investing in startups,” Harding said. “However, compared to other well-developed startup economies, we still have 10 times more to go.”
Other companies, such as Gener8tor, Boyd Street Ventures, i2E, OLSF and Techstars are helping expand equity investments within the state, Harding said.
He doesn’t think Oklahoma’s current low ranking in the category should deter a potential entrepreneur from launching in the state. With more growth every year, he feels it’s the right time to start a business in Oklahoma.
“Building your startup here means you have tremendous tailwinds and are part of America’s next great growth story in tech startups,” Harding said.
Manpower is a challenge that entrepreneurs face
Oklahoma’s workforce was the other category that lagged behind the national median, according to Forbes.
The publication measured quality based on the percentage of college graduates in a state’s workforce. Depending on the type of work required for a new business, this can be a challenge for entrepreneurs.
This is for Sean Akadiri.
Akadiri founded AgBoost, a tech company that allows ranchers to track livestock data, including health and genetics, using DNA, in 2013. But finding skilled workers is tricky.
“For me, it was difficult because I had to find software developers outside the state,” Akadiri said.
Oklahoma, which often boasts a relatively low unemployment rate, has historically struggled in some industries that require advanced degrees, including aerospace.
However, for many new business owners, the workforce is a down-the-line type of problem. Lucas told The Oklahoman, and Akadiri agreed, that entrepreneurs are often lucky to employ at least a few individuals by the end of the first year or two.
Oklahoma offers something that doesn’t appear in the stat book
Akadiri launched his business despite not being from the area (he grew up in Nigeria), and despite knowing relatively little about the ag industry.
“I’m not a cattle guy. … I just had an idea and was looking for different ways to execute,” said Akadiri.
The environment is challenging for many reasons, but he cited one reason Oklahoma is a great place to start a business that Harding and Lucas also discussed.
Oklahoma offers a great collaborative workspace, filled with individuals willing to help others.
“It’s easy for me to connect with the right people,” Akadiri said. “Oklahoma is really cool for me in terms of connecting with ranchers and operating in that space.”
“One of the things that makes Oklahoma unique for entrepreneurs is how accessible people are to help them on their journey,” Lucas said. “You’re one level of separation (away), and you can usually get someone to meet you. That’s one of our key differentiators, especially compared to larger markets.”
Now that he has been running his business for several years, and continues to see growth, Akadiri feels he is at a point where he can help others.
“There is still work to be done. This state is quite slow compared to other states,” said Akadiri. “If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t do it any differently, but it also gave me a good perspective on how to help others succeed as well.”