By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
The 2015 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup collegiate business plan competition culminated with a gala banquet in mid-April. It was inspiring.
Teams from East Central University won first, second and third place in the Small Business Division. Photo provided
The students were excited, poised, and dressed to the nines.
The room was buzzing as Gov. Mary Fallin and numerous other business and civic leaders announced the winners of $154,000 in scholarships and awards.
But with the drama of the gala and the significance of the awards, the enduring impact of the Governor’s Cup is its success statewide in helping our young people learn firsthand that entrepreneurship is a viable career option — and that Oklahoma is a great place to start a business.
The Governor’s Cup is inclusive — open to students from any college campus across the state, with 32 campuses sending teams over the years. More than 1,500 hundred Oklahoma college students have taken part.
After a decade of success, the Governor’s Cup is well understood at the state’s largest research universities.
In 2013, the competition expanded to include a new division for nonresearch campuses, two-year colleges and private regional universities. It’s great to see how in such a short time the Small Business Division has taken hold.
Every team has an adviser. These advisers spread the word about the Governor’s Cup. They help students form teams — always emphasizing the value of diversity — and then work with the teams to identify and develop business plans — the count so far is more than 500 innovative ideas.
“Write a business plan” means that students take an idea for a high-growth company or a small business, create a value proposition, build a credible business on paper, and then gain support for that plan in oral presentations to angel investors and other entrepreneurs.
The students — remarkable isn’t a big enough word — do this work on top of other classes and assignments, part-time jobs, community service, activities, and family responsibilities. They learn to network. They see the resources that are available in Oklahoma to support entrepreneurs. Many of them get bitten hard by the startup bug.
Oklahoma has garnered more than 23 emerging small businesses from the Governor’s Cup. i2E is currently working with seven entrepreneurial companies that are led by student teams.
Next year is the final year that the Governor’s Cup will receive funding from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation.
A number of companies and organizations in Oklahoma have already stepped up as sponsors with financial and in-kind support. If your business isn’t participating, you should be.
The Governor’s Cup creates the two most vital parts of an innovation economy — entrepreneurs and deal flow.
It’s time to build a funding plan that will continue the momentum toward entrepreneurship that students, dedicated advisers, entrepreneurs and investors and the business community have all worked together to create.
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.