University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service graduate Lindsey Barnett has founded Advikit, a firm focused on delivering person-centered solutions for government agencies and their partners. Barnett started Advikit to leverage her expertise on IT projects developed from her work with state and federal agencies.
Barnett, who has worked on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at the local, state and national level, realized that many agencies struggle to maintain daily operations and build federally compliant enterprise eligibility systems – the systems that determine a person’s eligibility for SNAP, Medicaid, and other programs.
“These systems are more important than people realize,” Barnett said. “In some counties in Arkansas, as many as one in three people receive SNAP. The average is one in seven Arkansans get assistance. That includes working households, children, and seniors. If these systems don’t work, people are faced with hard choices and their health suffers.”
She sees Advikit as way to bridge the gap between technology and its users. People are Advikit’s ultimate focus. “That’s why the company is named Advikit,” Barnett said. “Sure, it’s about the clients who receive help, but it’s also about the caseworkers who have to use these systems day in and day out.”
Barnett majored in anthropology at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. With a smile she says “chicken poop” first led her to public service.
“After undergrad, I helped administer a few federal grants to protect watersheds from poultry litter. I got to see how these projects connect Hmong poultry farmers, to truckers, to other farmers, and to the university to get this waste out of sensitive watersheds. It was really meaningful to see different groups of people work together and how the government facilitated it all.”
Her work with SNAP began as a caseworker with the Arkansas Department of Human Services. She knew the job wasn’t for her, but “fell in love with the program” and it inspired her to go back to school.
As she started to look at graduate degrees, she chose the Clinton School of Public Service in part because of its educational diversity, because “why would you want to go to school where everybody wants to do exactly the same thing as you?”
Barnett’s field service at the Clinton School included team work with Heifer International in Little Rock and an international project with a clean water initiative in Belize. Working again with the Arkansas Department of Human Services, her Capstone project developed a SNAP outreach campaign for older Arkansans. That work eventually led her to a national fellowship on SNAP policy with the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C.
Barnett started Advikit in September 2017 and went full-time in June 2018.
Do you think of what you are doing now as entrepreneurship?
The entrepreneurial part of it is having to come up with my business model. Asking, what is the value to my customers? Who are my customers? My customers are the state and federal agencies, but it can also be the big vendors. They hire Advikit to keep their projects moving.
Another part I’m excited about is the Federal Government’s small business innovation and research grants. I have ideas for software I’d like Advikit to develop, something that would make the federal regulations easier to use for both the Feds and the states, and even the public if it went that route. It’s super exciting.
Was it intimidating to do this without having a formal education in business or technology?
It’s not intimidating; it can be frustrating to be a woman in technology. Oftentimes, I’ll go to a meeting or even a presentation on IT and I’m the only woman there. Part of the reason I started Advikit was to make more space for women in this industry.
But the business part, no. There are some excellent resources in Arkansas for small businesses. The Arkansas Procurement Assistance Center helps small businesses get federal and state contracts. The Arkansas Women’s Business Center through Winrock International has been great. They have a consultant who met with me and helped develop Advikit’s consulting practice.
What I might lack in formal education in business or tech, I make up for with real-world experience, vision, and my team.
What are some things you learned from the Clinton School that help you?
Developing consensus. Within the group projects, being able to take a step back and figure out what the actual question is. Communication is probably the most-needed skill in IT projects, getting everyone on the same page and understanding where everybody is coming from.