Software developer Chris Dykes was two years into a stint as chief information officer of Louisiana’s Department of Health and Hospitals when he decided to step out on his own and pursue his entrepreneurial dream.

“I was 35 at that point so I said ‘If I don’t do it now I’ll never do it,’ ” Dykes says. “I just decided to take a leap.”

That was 2014. Today Dykes is all-in on his business, Clear Blue Design, which provides data solutions to streamline processes, automate manual tasks and add consistency to clients’ business information. Within the company, Chris has started a mobile app called Freebird that lets users anonymously share ideas to reduce the fear and embarrassment that can deter idea sharing. In March, the LSU graduate shared his own ideas on a stage with other Baton Rouge-area thinkers at the 2017 TEDxLSU event.

All of this, however, almost never happened. Although Dykes had dabbled in part-time work for his own company and had kicked around the idea of full-time entrepreneurship, he was committed to his government position. That changed when he found himself in the middle of a large-scale reorganization of the state’s IT services and face-to-face with philosophical differences about the direction for the overhaul. He decided it was time to strike out on his own and take Clear Blue Design, which he started in 2007 as a part-time venture, to the next level.

A Clear Blue Vision

Full-time entrepreneurship allowed Dykes to return his roots of building software and focusing on the technical aspects of development that attracted him to the industry in the first place. But the transition from government to entrepreneurship required some big adjustments for Dykes.

“For years I’d been used to being in meetings all day, every day, just being on the go constantly,” he says. “Now I was just sitting at the computer figuring out what to do.”

He soon realized he needed to cultivate relationships with other business owners, so he moved to a space in the Louisiana Technology Park after working out of his home briefly. He says he was attracted to the park by the affordable rent and close proximity to other entrepreneurs.

“It’s a good environment,” he says. “I met other owners of companies that are doing neat things and got to talk to them and get the real details about what they’re doing. You can’t manufacture that.”

Clear Blue Design has grown into a four-person operation by focusing on projects that are an ideal fit for their developer’s skills. But the real driver of success, Dykes said, has been persistence.

“It’s about … when you want to quit or when you’re just not feeling it, just putting one foot in front of the other and doing it every day,” he said. “It’s really just about persistence. Who is really willing to just grind it out until they reach success?”

Liberating Ideas

In addition to its regular work for clients, Clear Blue Design created Freebird to remove common barriers that prevent the sharing of ideas. The social platform lets users anonymously share constructive ideas about how to improve their cultures and places.

Dykes likens it to a “democracy in a box” that could be used for neighborhoods, districts, cities, states or other organizations. The app lets users vote up or down on each item to amplify the best ideas. By creating a safe space for users to share, Dykes hopes the app will help great ideas gain support and resources needed to become a reality.

“The most valuable ideas are almost never going to come from the elite few who you’d think would have the best ideas,” he said. “They potentially come from the masses. That’s where there’s a lot of wasted thoughts.”

The app is available for iOS, with an Android version on the way. The company is also working on a private version to give companies a “walled garden” where ideas can be shared anonymously within an organization.

An Idea Worth Sharing

The creation and launch of Freebird led Dykes to the stage of the 2017 TEDxLSU event, where he discussed his vision for democratizing the sharing of ideas with an audience of 1,000 people.

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks, and the TEDxLSU event is among hundreds of independently organized conferences affiliated with the organization. Dykes was one of a dozen speakers at the March event on LSU’s campus, joining scientists, business visionaries and advocates across a variety of fields.

“It was an incredible experience overall,” he said. “I’m so glad I did it.”

Dykes said the experience of crafting a concise and powerful TED talk was much more involved than he anticipated, taking several months of collaborative work. “Being done with it was extremely satisfying,” he said. “It was certainly a relief to get it over with, but well worth it. It was a great experience.”

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