Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin announced the Innovate Oklahoma Initiative Thursday during a visit to StarSpace46 west of downtown Oklahoma City, a tech co-working space less than a year old.
The move points to a changing attitude of Oklahoma state government toward private technology companies.
The initiative is designed to bring the functioning of Oklahoma government into the 21st century through a relationship with technology entrepreneurs.
“This will be a win/win for our state,” Fallin said about the initiative.
She said the state will get the innovative value of interacting with entrepreneurs and they will, in turn, be able to build and make money from the solutions they develop.
“We want you. We value you,” Fallin told the room full of tech developers and entrepreneurs.
Innovate.ok.gov is its first product and went live during the event.
It’s an online portal that has the potential to directly connect users of state government and tech entrepreneurs to then find solutions to problems with the way government works.
The portal is designed to help government find solutions while providing a mechanism for entrepreneurs to provide those solutions to government.
Fallin said she hopes the portal will be one of many ways to “help bring innovation to government.”
Anyone can visit the portal and identify problems they are having with the way Oklahoma government works and even add their own ideas about possible fixes.
The portal will then allow innovators and entrepreneurs to study the information and develop ways to solve the problems.
“We want it to benefit state government in better efficiency and access to citizens as it benefits entrepreneurs who might find solutions to the problems,” said Fallin.
Fallin identified state government objectives of the initiative.
- Grow the state tech sector to become the “Silicon Prairie” similar to California’s Silicon Valley.
- Reduce spending on old legacy computer systems that can’t communicate with each other across agencies.
- Build partnerships
- Modernize government
- Help companies with proposals by streamlining the process
- Help reduce costs for taxpayers who are the customers of government
The governor said the portal is meant to be a “market of government innovation.”
Fallin brought several executives who work daily to keep Oklahoma government working with the old legacy systems as they convert to new systems that cost less and work better.
“We created a dysfunctional system,” said Bo Reese, state chief information officer.
As they have unified the state’s information technology efforts, they have been able to save more money.
“We have unified 111 agencies for a savings of $328 million,” Reese said.
After the morning’s activities Free Press talked with Reese.
He said that when they started on the process of unification, they had about 1,200 different systems running state government. Now they are down to 749.
“This way, when we solve a tech problem, we only have to solve it one time,” Reese said.
We talked with Dustin Crossfield, Director of Technology Services, who will be working directly with the portal to help connect tech problems with creative people who can find solutions.
“The legacy systems are what cost the state the most, because we have to call in techs to fix them so often,” Crossfield said.
“I consider myself to be a steward of the state,” he said. “So I’m always looking for ways to get the most out of the tech dollars that we spend.
Dave King moved his innovation company from Boston to Oklahoma City a few years ago and sees much potential in the state.
“Oklahoma is situated to become the Silicon Valley of the Midwest,” said King. “But, this is an opportunity, not a guarantee. We all have to work at this, not just a few.”
The founder of Tulsa’s popular co-working space 36 Degrees North Dustin Curzon talked about how Oklahoma has always had an entrepreneurial spirit in the oil patch, but that has changed.
“You are the new generation of wildcatters,” Curzon told the mostly young entrepreneurs.
StarSpace 46 tour
Before the announcement, Tommy Yi led the governor on a tour of the co-working space, one of his many projects focused on fostering Oklahoma City’s tech community.
In less than a year StarSpace46 has become a colorful hub of small startups, solo workers and technology meetup groups.
Before Yi and other investors bought it, the building was a bunker-like, windowless, industrial two-story building made from massive reinforced concrete tilt-up panels.
Yi had windows cut in the walls, and with a lot of volunteer help turned an attached loading garage into a state-of-the-art meeting space.
Several user groups centered on different code languages and code learning opportunities convene in the meeting space weekly.
Techlahoma has been at the core of getting more user groups established at StarSpace46 and Thursday was a sign of the growing depth of the nonprofit.
Code-writing husband and wife Jesse and Amanda Harlin have worked hard to get Techlahoma off the ground and expanding to meet growth needs in Oklahoma City’s tech community.
Techlahoma organizes the annual Thunder Plains developer conference, which brings in a large number of code and tech professionals from Oklahoma and far beyond.
Governor Fallin praised Amanda Harlin for her work with various women’s groups that encourage women and girls to go into a tech careers, and especially code.
Jesse partnered with Caleb Briggs to build the platform that is at the core of Innovateok.com.
“Tommy, me and a bunch of other people here have been talking about a portal like this for quite a while now,” said Jesse. “But, once Caleb and I started, it took us about two months of hard work to get it out.”
Jesse and Amanda both have a strong sense of mission for expanding Oklahoma’s tech community and that came through in Jesse’s comment about building the platform.
“I saw this as a chance to expand our community,” Jesse said.
“Anything that can empower Oklahomans is good. And so this seemed like a really good chance to do that.”