For the 2010 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup, a pair of brothers from the University of Oklahoma dreamed up the idea of using human hair as concrete filler, wrote a business plan around the concept and almost won the undergraduate competition.
The two enterprising innovators, Daniel and Yonathan Reches, created quite a stir with their student generated concept. Known as Sampson Fibers, the Reches brothers claimed third place and a $5,000 prize in the completion.
Daniel Reches also was awarded a $5,000 Paulsen Award scholarship, which he used to complete his undergraduate degrees in International Business and Entrepreneurship that fall.
Reches recently visited i2E’s Oklahoma City offices to meet with our venture advisors about a startup – TrigonAds – with which he is involved. Afterward, he sat down with me for a few minutes to discuss the Governor’s Cup experience and how it has influenced his entrepreneurial career.
Here are some excerpts of that conversation:
What are your thoughts on the Governor’s Cup experience?
One thing I think is so amazing about the Governor’s Cup and so amazing about the Paulsen Award is that what you do is not done anywhere else. You unite Oklahoma higher education institutes — be they public or private, in Tulsa or Oklahoma City or Ada or Stillwater – and you connect them together for a wealth of knowledge and a desire for knowledge that is unrivaled and unmet anywhere else. In all my times and educational experiences, I have not had an experience that enabled me to connect with real time, relevant people who all they want to do is to grow the culture of entrepreneurship and innovation in Oklahoma. And that’s wonderful. The Governor’s Cup is not a student program, it’s an Oklahoma program for students. It’s real life simulation in an academic setting.
As a Paulsen Award winner, you got to speak to the Oklahoma Business Roundtable at its annual meeting; what did you tell them?
What I talked to them about is the fact that Oklahoma presents a great opportunity. That’s one of the beautiful things about our state. This is an overlooked market, a market that has a very large amount of wealth, a very large amount of human capital and a very good investor pool. What I told them honestly is that, in my opinion, the chambers of commerce and other organizations should partner together to offer even minimum wage internships for in-state students, because we need to keep Oklahoma graduates in the state. We need to create employment opportunities through connecting potential employees with potential employers.
You are a dual U.S.-Israel citizen, yet chose to stay in Oklahoma after graduation. What kept you here?
I graduated in December 2010 and started working on a business venture that ended up not getting funding from a bank. After that rejection I was approached by a non-profit, the Hillel Foundation, down in Norman. They were looking for an interim director. It’s the Jewish programming on campus. It was a very great opportunity, and I was by far the youngest person to every do that job. I was 23. I managed two employees, four interns and ran $160,000 budget. It was a great experience, but in all honesty, partially through my experience with i2E and partially through my life experience, I really knew that’s not where my passion was. I wanted to work on a technological concept and bring it to market. So, when I finished that job in May, I traveled for four months and found this startup, and that’s what I’m doing. The people in this state are focused on making this state business friendly and making the state competitive. Oklahoma is a wonderful place to live and wonderful place to start a business.
What became of Sampson Fibers, the venture described in your GovCup business plan?
It’s basically on the back burner. We got a lot of very good feedback on it. What really came out of Sampson Fiber is it really changed the way both me and my brother look at entrepreneurship. As weird as it is to say, the beautiful thing about the Governor’s Cup is that it is not an assignment, it is not something you do for school. It’s something you do not for real in the way you are actually going to do it, but for real in the way that you could actually do it. Those two complement each other in a way that can only be taught through something like the Governor’s Cup.