Forbes is not a big fan of starting a business in Oklahoma.
In a list that’s bound to prompt groans in some parts of the country, ego boosts in others, and plenty of data misunderstandings — Oklahoma is 42nd in the “Best States to Start a Business in 2023.”
But how accurate is a list like that? What factors cannot be overlooked? Is Oklahoma – birthplace of businesses like Continental Resources, Love’s Travel Stops, Sonic, Paycom and more – 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 access, economy and workforce.
In three of the five categories, Oklahoma actually scored in the median level of all states (cost of doing business, business climate and economy). But a poor showing on financial access and a slightly below-median workforce ranking score pulled the state down.
There is certainly work to be done, says Erika Lucas, but she sees little merit in lists like the one made by Forbes.
“I don’t think entrepreneurs or established businesses look at these lists and then say, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to be in Oklahoma,'” Lucas said.
Lucas is a co-founder of StitchCrew – a company dedicated to linking entrepreneurs with resources and networks to further develop 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 currently working on a local project to help launch Latino-owned businesses to seven-figure incomes.
Funding continues to be an issue for Oklahoma businesses and entrepreneurs
Oklahoma scored the 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, works with his company to raise capital and invest it in several Oklahoma-based businesses. He has seen a lot of progress in recent years, but still has a long way to go.
“Compared to just a few years ago, there are almost 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 to 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 felt it was an opportune time to start a business in Oklahoma.
“Building your startup here means you have a lot of tailwinds and are part of America’s next great growth story of tech startups,” Harding said.
Labor is still a challenge facing entrepreneurs
The Oklahoma workforce is another category that lags behind the national median, according to Forbes.
The publication measures quality based on the percentage of college graduates in the state’s workforce. Depending on the type of work required for a new business, it can be challenging for entrepreneurs.
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 difficult.
“For me, it was difficult because I had to look for software developers outside the state,” Akadiri said.
Oklahoma, which has always boasted 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 usually lucky to hire even just a couple by the end of the first year or two.
Oklahoma offers something not found in the stat book
Akadiri launched his business despite not being from the area (he grew up in Nigeria), and despite knowing little about the ag industry.
“I’m not a cow person. … I have an idea and look for different ways to implement it,” said Akadiri.
The environment is difficult for many reasons, but he mentioned one reason that Oklahoma is a good place to start a business that Harding and Lucas also mentioned.
Oklahoma offers a great collaborative workspace, full of individuals willing to help others.
“It was easy for me to connect with the right people,” Akadiri said. “Oklahoma has been really good 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 readily available people are to help them travel,” Lucas said. “One degree of separation (away), and you 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 be someone who 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 other way, but it also gave me a good perspective on how to help others be successful as well.”