By Scott Meacham
Information technology plays a super-sized role In Oklahoma’s innovation economy. More than half of our TBFP Concept Fund investments and about 44 percent of investments from the Oklahoma Seed Capital Fund have been in IT, software, telecommunication, and internet firms,
Brett Kolomyjec, Oklahoma entrepreneur and CEO of Happily, is upbeat about post-pandemic opportunities for businesses in these industries.
“I’m reading The Future is Faster Than You Think,” Kolomyjec said. “The book talks about how a convergence of events, resources, and discovery can take technology that started off slow and make it accessible to the rest of the world. That feels like the shift with COVID.”
Kolomyjec is living the experience. With social distancing and limits on entertainment and dining out (not to mention, a mention in Forbes), Happily’s date-in-a-box subscription service is booming. “The pandemic has been the perfect storm for Happily,” Kolomyjec said.
The question technologists need to ask, he says, is how have the parameters and confines of our time changed with this pandemic and what technologies and services exist or can pivot to serve those needs.
“Amazon knew that the last mile is the way to reach customers,” he said, “but before COVID, that accessibility didn’t make sense for smaller companies. Now with COVID, last mile delivery is the way life is. I heard a keynote speaker say a few years ago that technology really sticks, not because of the specific service, but because it gives people back time or the perception of time. That’s happening now.”
For example, the work-from-home phenomenon is having an enormous impact on IT businesses—from the proliferation of online conferencing applications like Zoom to telecommuting.
“The last few months have made us all realize how much money, effort, and time are spent on things, not essential to our businesses,” Kolomyjec said. “I would expect that as office and commercial real estate leases expire, companies in technology are going to become very smart about remote work and how they decentralize operations. Technology and product design can be done from anywhere.”
Not only will the industry change where it works, but how it works.
“At Happily, we focus our project work in two week ‘sprints’ every Tuesday,” Kolomyjec said. “Inside those sprints, everyone knows what to do. Since COVID-19, our output is about 16 percent higher. Our people are more productive because they can optimize their schedules for what life looks like rather than optimizing to an office culture that isn’t a fit for them.”
Kolomyjec senses another quiet shift in the world of technology startups—an awakening of interest in Midwestern startups from venture capital firms on the coasts. “Before you had to know someone in Silicon Valley or in New York. Now they are beginning to research companies from other states. The more startups we have in Oklahoma, the more likely we are to attract outside capital.”
And that brings me to one of my standards—a fact of innovation that was true before this pandemic and will be after: Capital begets capital.
Another truth is that pandemics upset inertia.
The conclusion? The more early stage companies we can launch or attract to Oklahoma in this time of disruption, the more attractive this state will become to non-traditional venture capitalists. Like the team at Happily, let’s optimize this perfect storm.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state support from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and is an integral part of Oklahoma’s Innovation Model. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.