By Brian Brus
Courtesy of The Journal Record
OKLAHOMA CITY – The most difficult aspect of helping develop a winning business plan is to step back and let it fail, said assistant business professor Amber Hefner at Oklahoma State University.
“It’s hard as a teacher because you want to wade in and be hands-on with the project,” said Hefner, who teaches marketing and management at the OSU Oklahoma City campus. “But you can’t do that, because they have to learn it and know it themselves. It’s part of my job to let them find their own way so they can defend the business plan before the judges.”
Those judges are experienced business operators who volunteer to help select the winners in the annual Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup competition for Oklahoma college students. They’ve already launched their share of businesses and know too well the blind spots that will cause new entrepreneurs to stumble. Hefner, as an adviser, said she prepares her students as well as possible, but doesn’t hold their hands when business gets real.
This year Hefner’s team claimed first place in the small business division: X-Pert Shot is a large shooting sports complex and training center that team leader Shane Barlow is actually developing into a business of his own. His concept is a little different from most shooting ranges because it will be outdoors so sportsmen can work with natural elements.
Hefner said that Barlow, in winning the Governor’s Cup event, has been presented with a choice of pursuing his education further or entering the market. Barlow already has acquired the land.
“As his professor, I can’t really tell him to go start his business,” she said. “He’s got a lot of thinking to do.”
Hefner said mentoring the team is satisfying and a lot of fun, although it wears her out. Her team last year also won first place. Hefner said she will likely not participate next year.
Claire Cornell urged Hefner to merely take a break and come back again. Cornell is assistant director of entrepreneurship in the Collins College of Business at the University of Tulsa. She’s served as a faculty adviser for Governor’s Cup teams since 2005 and loves the experience.
“The most exciting thing to me is to see how students develop over a semester,” Cornell said. “They have only a very basic idea about a technology, for example, but they come together and make that into a business, and it’s really exciting. They really get passionate about it.”
For the second consecutive year, both first-place teams in the high-growth divisions were from the University of Tulsa. Cornell was adviser to the TU undergraduate team, which developed Owlpal Healthcare, a technology for diagnosing and monitoring asthma in children at night.
She said many of her students have moved on to successful ventures, but not often with the technologies they start with. She’s stayed in touch with several entrepreneurs who have launched their own businesses.
“The Governor’s Cup really does plant the seed and empowers them to realize they can do something,” she said. “When that opportunity comes along, they’ll be better prepared to recognize it and pursue it.”
More than 1,350 students from 31 Oklahoma campuses have participated in the nine years of the Governor’s Cup competition, writing business plans around nearly 450 ideas and competing for more than $1.4 million in cash awards, scholarships and fellowships.
Hefner said it’s satisfying to see her students’ concepts realized at the end of the event because it helps break down stereotypes about associates degree-level academics.
“There will always be people who downplay the significance of the work that’s done at a community college or two-year program,” Hefner said. “I know the quality of student who sits in my class, and that’s hard to articulate sometimes. I have some excellent students who can write solid business plans worth $10,000.”