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Native Roots Legacy

Cherokee Data Solutions continues to thrive under the reins of founder Pamela Bickford’s family members, along with services provided by OBAN.
Native Roots Legacy

Native Roots Legacy

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Cherokee Data Solutions

CareerTech - OBAN

Show Details

Show 1631: Native Roots Legacy
Air Date: July 31, 2016



Rob McClendon: Well, altogether 67 Native American tribes are represented in Oklahoma, including 39 federally recognized tribes headquartered here. And with many federal incentive programs designed to help underserved groups and underserved areas, a organization called OBAN helps Oklahoma businesses benefit from them. But as Blane Singletary reports, when you go beyond the dollars and cents, what you find are companies like Cherokee Data Solutions, whose story is one of never giving up, no matter what life throws your way.

Blane Singletary: You might not notice it at first, but on this quiet street in Claremore is a rapidly growing business.

Chrystal Antao: It’s a small, woman-owned, family-run company started in 2001 by my mother. We do primarily business-to-business sales focusing on government enterprises, Native American tribes and other local businesses.

Blane: Chrystal Antao is the CEO of Cherokee Data Solutions. This company helps other businesses and government agencies big and small get the technology, supply and promotional products they need to succeed. And Cherokee Data’s story and its founder Pamela Huddleston Bickford is one success as well.

Antao: We were tired of moving. She was tired of following a job out of state, she wanted to be home – this is home, and she wanted the impact of her work to be here. She didn’t want to be putting money in the pockets of people abroad anymore. And she started with a garage sale desk, you know, in the corner of her bedroom and just started reaching out to people and grew from there.

Blane: It took blood, sweat and tears to grow this company and all the more so recently. Chrystal’s father passed away three years ago, and Pamela, last March.

Antao: It’s been overwhelming and awesome – it’s been a difficult transition from, you know, being a stay-at-home mom and just being with my kids all the time to transition back into being a working mom. It’s been complicated, but it’s an honor and a blessing to carry on the vision and the driving force that mom had to carry, to run with her dream and know that they didn’t die with her.

Blane: In many ways, Chrystal inherited that fighting spirit from her mother, who started this business as a stay-at-home mom herself. We spoke to her back in 2010.

Pamela Huddleston: When I started the business, I had no credit history. None. Hence therefore, I couldn’t get a debit card, actually. Not even, like, a loan. And so I had to work a night job to fund the business. And that’s what I did until the distributors began giving me lines of credit.

Blane: Pamela started Cherokee Data to be closer to her family, and that’s been the idea moving forward with the next generation, as her children have taken key positions as the company restructured.

Antao: Several people here are directly related and closely related, you know, myself and my brother, Ross -- you know, it was our parents’ company. Ross’s wife, Jenny, works here, you know; we have Uncle Scott, who’s recently moved back from Texas to join our sales team. And then we have P.C. as our IT tech salesman, and he’s pretty much grown up with the company. Whenever you say “family” to a Bickford, it’s an inclusive term, it’s not exclusive.

Blane: And that’s led them to many networking and growth opportunities, especially through state and federal government contracts. A lot of that is thanks to OBAN, the Oklahoma Bid Assistance Network. Angela Cash is the regional coordinator out of Tulsa Tech and has worked with Cherokee Data for many years.

Angela Cash: Our whole goal is to help companies, help small businesses, to be able to compete in the government contracting arena. There are a lot of registrations out there. There are a lot of consultants that charge a lot of money to provide the services that we provide that our clients’ tax dollars pay for.

Blane: Whereas some large companies might be able to hire a team full-time to manage their government contract work, OBAN provides that extra legwork to businesses like this one, who wouldn’t otherwise be able to do it with their limited staff and limited capital.

Cash: It’s a whole new language when you’re learning about contracting with the government. Another thing that we do that’s very important for them is to help them find their competitive edge in the marketplace.

Blane: Case in point, most government agencies set aside money for certain business categories, like those owned by women or businesses in economically disadvantaged areas. OBAN helps these companies navigate the red tape that comes along with getting certified in these areas.

Cash: So we help them drill down, help them get the maps of where the employees live and help them ensure that everything is ready to go, so that when they sit down and do that online application, it’ll be streamlined and most likely get approved.

Blane: Thanks to OBAN, Cherokee Data has been able to land government contracts all across the country, all while staying rooted and growing right here in Claremore. And while they boast plenty of awards across their walls, it’s the next generation that Chrystal says she’s most proud of.

Antao: That is the vision, and that was, you know, Mom wanted a legacy. She didn’t want, you know, money to put in her pocket. This company is, it’s founded on her dreams, and her dreams have always been family, you know. She wants her family close. And this is a great way, you know, for them to stay close, and it will be theirs someday.

Blane: And in the hands of this family and their extended family, this company will keep on rolling, just as Pamela would have wanted.

Pamela Bickford: Life is life. Things are gonna come along right when you least expect it, but those challenges happen, and you’ve gotta have a plan to keep going. Because if you stop, you fail – if you don’t stop, you never fail.

Rob: Well, things are looking up for Cherokee Data, as they plan to expand their offices and spin their promotional products business into its own company.