By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
With a lot of applause and anticipation, we just concluded the 2019 Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup, Oklahoma’s only statewide collegiate business plan and pitch competition.
This is the competition’s fifteenth year. Hundreds of Oklahomans are involved. A dedicated cadre of business leaders, investors, public sector officials, as well as entrepreneurs from Oklahoma’s innovation economy come together to create this amazing competition and attend the awards dinner.
Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell was present to address the young entrepreneurs, stating his door is always open for Oklahoma’s entrepreneurs.
“I am passionate about creating an environment in Oklahoma that allows our entrepreneurs to launch and grow a business here. I don’t want to see talented Oklahomans have to go to Denver, or Dallas, or Houston to find a support system that allows their business to get off the ground,” he said. “The Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup has been a phenomenal tool to engage our emerging generation and encourage their entrepreneurship. We want that emerging generation starting their businesses here and keeping them here.”
The energy was elevated, as Jenny Love Meyer, vice president of communications for Love’s Travel Stops, presented the awards to the Love’s Cup overall winners. The winning concepts included an innovative microbial gel coating to be used with existing catheters to reduce urinary tract infections by up to 99 percent; chewing gum that has a proprietary blend of active ingredients that promotes relaxation, and a medical grade gel proven to kill harmful bacteria without damaging expensive electronics.
Team advisors and other mentors do a wonderful job of preparing students to present to multiple judges who critically evaluate the written business plans and oral presentations.
“It’s very exciting to see these young college students, who are so passionately working as part of a team, to bring a business idea to reality,” Harry Emerson, director of marketing at OGE Energy Corp., told me. Harry has been a competition judge for several years.
“These students are Oklahoma’s next generation of business and innovation leaders,” he said. “It’s great to see smaller schools competing alongside our state’s research universities.”
Since inception, awards to students have reached nearly $2 million in cash and more than $130,000 in scholarships. More than 2,300 students from colleges and universities across the state have competed.
This year was the first Love’s Cup experience for Rob McLaughlin, managing partner at Square Deal Capital.
“It’s just plain tough, trying to start a business and takes special people to be successful in this arena,” Rob said. “I was thoroughly impressed with the depth of insight these teams had for a business issue and for the solutions they were bringing to solve that issue. I loved their conviction, energy, and commitment. I’ve heard a lot of business pitches, and I was blown away by these students’ intelligence, their confidence, and the way they articulated their business plans.”
There are so many ways Oklahoma benefits from the Love’s Entrepreneur’s Cup. This experience gives them a jumpstart in a career path no matter the future direction they take. Students synthesize what they learn in the classroom and work in a team setting to come up with and defend a real plan that addresses a real problem. Innovative solutions for big problems gain exposure. New companies get started, and some of them succeed. More than 35 plans have gone on to become i2E clients and start their business.
Across all of these good outcomes, I think the brass ring in this competition is the impact that the Love’s Cup has on amplifying the young talent that we have here in Oklahoma and then connecting that talent directly with leaders of all types across Oklahoma.
Those connections are so important in introducing our finest college and university graduates to competitive, challenging careers in this state. For any company looking for talent, Love’s Cup alumni is a great place to start.
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