By Scott Meacham
We have a new virtual rallying cry at i2E: Entrepreneur’s Cup Is Unstoppable!
In this unreal time of COVID-19, let me tell you what that means.
2020 is the sixteenth year of the widely acclaimed Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup statewide collegiate business plan competition. From day one, the vision for Entrepreneur’s Cup (formerly the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup) has been to give college and university students the opportunity to simulate the real world of researching a market, writing a business plan, and making a presentation to potential investors. We want them to see how rewarding and exciting entrepreneurship can be but also introduce them to the skills required to succeed in the corporate world.
Four years ago, Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores became the competition’s Signature Sponsor. This family-owned and operated company is the ideal entrepreneurial icon for college students who aspire to take great ideas and build a feasible business plan. Dozens of Oklahoma companies, civic organizations, universities, and our state through the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST) united behind the competition and have been magnificent in their funding, scholarships, and support as advisors and judges.
That brings us to today and the 2020 Entrepreneur’s Cup, and our virtual rallying cry.
Entrepreneur’s Cup kicks off every November with Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur and continues into late April culminating with an awards gala where the winners are announced. We were in the middle of the competition when the pandemic shut-down occurred. Student teams had submitted written business plans; the next step for the finalist teams were oral competitions in front of live judges. Then classes were halted. Schools closed and went to online. Students went back to their homes.
And that’s when Entrepreneur’s Cup became unstoppable.
Sarah Seagraves, i2E’s senior VP of marketing and the team of dedicated college advisors, competition judges, and committed sponsors across Oklahoma, pivoted to an entirely new virtual, online format.
“This is a lesson in entrepreneurship we and the teams never expected from the Entrepreneur’s Cup,” Seagraves said, “adapting, pivoting, and figuring out how to make an in-person competition virtually overnight.”
But figure it out they did with speed and agility. Talk about innovation and creativity.
Everyone came together. The question wasn’t should we cancel. Instead it was what do you need? What can I do to help? There was not once any negativity. Entrepreneur’s Cup is always a collaborative endeavor; this year, it is even more collaborative.
Teams and their advisors mastered Zoom and began holding their working meetings online. They increased the number and frequency of practice sessions to learn how to effectively handle the technology as well as the pitch material.
This week, Entrepreneur’s Cup finalists delivered their business plan presentations “together and apart” from their own individual residences. Spirits are high.
Cullen Edens, who is a student at East Central University in Ada sums it up.” I had many important milestones and events in my life cancelled or postponed due to this pandemic, including graduation,” he said. “I am so ecstatic to have the opportunity to still compete in this inspiring competition and that the Love’s Cup is still continuing to promote entrepreneurship for college students like myself.”
The goal with the Entrepreneur’s Cup has always been to help students gain both hands-on experience with the ups and downs of creating a viable business plan and an authentic taste and excitement for what being an entrepreneur or in the world of business is all about.
This year’s competition, like entrepreneurship itself, is delivering on that object in unexpected and unanticipated ways. And, just like Oklahoma’s real world entrepreneurs, the student teams competing in the Entrepreneur’s Cup are rising to the challenge with amazing creativity and determination.
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 [email protected]