By Scott Meacham
Every spring, the celebratory conclusion of the annual Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup brings into sharp focus—and the limelight—the months of hard work that teams from Oklahoma’s colleges and universities put into this business plan and pitch competition.
I am floored by the enthusiasm, work ethic, and talent of these students. I start out with the mindset that the previous year’s crop of participants and business plans were so good, how could they be topped. And yet, for 16 years, teams and advisors keep raising the bar. That was the hope and vision of i2E’s former CEO Greg Main when he championed the first competition sixteen years ago, as honored by his family this year with a special distinguished scholar award.
This year 42 Love’s Cup teams and 168 students from schools across Oklahoma competed with business plans for small and high growth businesses. Their ideas ranged from a home white blood cell monitor for immuno-compromised individuals to a cultivation program for small farmers.
I know what I think about Love’s Cup—first and foremost that it’s a uniquely Oklahoman way to expand our state’s pipeline of career entrepreneurs, startup companies, and the best and brightest employees for Oklahoma corporations that know how think and preform entrepreneurially. Talking to judges, sponsors, and students, I am reminded that it is all of that and so much more.
Chris Wright, serial entrepreneur, adjunct faculty member at University of Tulsa, and advisor to the first place high growth undergraduate team, Novel Neuro, talked about how Loves’ Cup teaches the rigor and craft of entrepreneurship, “I am an entrepreneur and started my first company twenty years ago. I have seen the entrepreneurial landscape in Oklahoma change a lot in that twenty years. The Love’s Cup helps teams understand what it takes to come up with an idea, vet that idea in the marketplace, develop a business plan around that idea, and then pitch it. They learn how to be successful raising capital and growing a business.”
From Casey Black, winner of the graduate pitch competition winner and Second Place winner of the graduate division from East Central University speaks to gaining confidence in entrepreneurship as a career: “I never wrote a business plan as an undergraduate. My mentor and advisor said I should try, so I gave it a shot. I started from scratch, working full-time while I was doing it. Fast forward three months, through this process, hours of constantly making my plan and pitch better, I have learned exactly what I am capable of.”
Seth Reiter, director of Eagle Ventures at Oklahoma Christian University and advisor to the first place Small Business Division team, Argus, calls out diversity as a path to success: “We pulled together a team of cross-discipline students from diverse backgrounds with different skills. We had students in finance, gaming and animation, computer science, and an interdisciplinary student in psychology. I was impressed with how the group came together as a team and their willingness to speak to as many people as they could to validate their market.”
From Michael Basch, venture capitalist, i2E board member, and competition judge: “The number one take-away from Love’s Cup is the talent, ideas, and entrepreneurial potential among college students in Oklahoma. With mentoring and money, they can build companies. When they win the competition, we want to see them really try. We would be interested in working with them.”
Love’s Cup is made possible by the generous and committed sponsorship of Love’s Travel Stops and the dozens of additional sponsors, judges, and advisors. We will all keep raising the bar.
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 appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.