By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
The Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup collegiate business plan competition teaches students what it’s really like to take an innovative idea and build a business plan.
Students also learn, as entrepreneurs everywhere know, that being in the right place at the right time also plays a part.
Philip McCoy, team leader of the AeroHead team (first-place winner in the 2014 High Growth Graduate Division), is a certified flight instructor who is pursuing his MBA at night while he works and accrues flight hours toward piloting for United Airlines.
McCoy came on board with the Governor’s Cup pretty late in the game, and, in his words, “through a series of random events.”
He was looking for an elective to round out his first semester course load. Seeing that the Governor’s Cup class, taught by Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship Claire Cornell, had no books or tests caught his attention. When he learned that GovCup teams could earn $20,000, he was in.
Most of Professor Cornell’s teams already had formed, but over in the engineering school at the University of Tulsa, there were three freshmen engineers who were interested in developing a business plan for an innovative putter invented by TU’s Steve Tipton, Ph.D., M.E., and distinguished professor of mechanical engineering.
Coincidentally, one of the freshmen happened to be a good golfer who had caddied for five years at Southern Hills and witnessed thousands of putts.
Another teammate, a marketing major, is on the TU golf team and turning pro. The AeroHead chief financial officer is a former art major from China.
So here was this very non-traditional GovCup team — a first semester pilot, leading three freshman mechanical engineers, a nearly pro golfer and a marketing major from China who has been in the U.S. for less than a year, with an advisor — Dr. Tipton — who didn’t come from the business school.
“We had an incredibly unique team dynamic that we couldn’t have planned,” McCoy said.
“Dr. Tipton and the engineers were constantly asking how we can make the putter more user-friendly. My perspective was to ask how the business would operate. The two marketing majors were focused on how we would market and sell.
This class gave me a different worldview than I had five months ago. There is opportunity everywhere.”
McCoy also learned just how rigorous the GovCup class with no books or tests really is.
“Our team probably put in more than 1,000 person hours,” he said. “This experience is as close to the real world as any MBA class can ever be.”
Starting a business begins with planning, preparation, and lots of hard work … and then there are those moments of serendipity that keep everything fresh and interesting.
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. Email Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.