When i2E Inc. joined with the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation more than eight years ago to create the inaugural Governor's Cup college business plan competition, we believed a statewide, high-caliber initiative could rev up the entrepreneurial spirit in our college and university students.
It worked. More than 1,000 students from 26 campuses have earned more than $1.2 million in cash prizes, fellowships and scholarships. Ten Oklahoma companies have been started or assisted as a result of the Governor's Cup.
We've progressed from a competition that was predominantly funded by the Reynolds Foundation to one that is primarily sustained by Oklahoma-based resources. Among the many generous sponsors are AT&T, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, OGE Energy Corp., Oklahoma Business Roundtable and Phillips 66.
This year we are adding a Small Business Undergraduate Division.
The Small Business Division targets aspiring entrepreneurs at Oklahoma's two-year colleges and non-research regional campuses, public as well as private universities. Students may write a business plan around any business concept, such as a retail operation, service business or restaurant, as long as the approach to the business is innovative and unique.
“I have the greatest appreciation that the Governor's Cup has created this new division that is enticing for our community colleges to compete,” said Dr. Steve Smith, president of Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton. “The $40,000 in cash prizes and Oklahoma Business Roundtable Paulsen Award scholarships are wonderful incentives.”
“It's all about the students,” Smith said. “Ideas start young. When students start dreaming big, when you get them to cross that threshold for the first time and their eyes get big and they gain that first ounce of confidence, they start believing they are smart enough, they can do this, and that's when they take off.”
Smith said that leaving the small town where he grew up and going to college changed his life.
“I went to a regional university in Oklahoma,” he said. “That university helped me become what I am today. That's what we are supposed to do. Open our students' minds and get their creative juices flowing. Students have to do their part. They have to step out there, and that's a scary proposition. But it's all about perseverance and finding your niche.”
The expansion of the Governor's Cup to better serve schools such as Eastern Oklahoma State will help more of our state's future entrepreneurs persevere and find their niche. For more information, go to www.okgovcup.com.
Rex Smitherman is interim 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 Smitherman at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
DID YOU KNOW?
According to a recent survey published by the Ewing M. Kauffman Foundation, 38 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds who are enrolled in college plan to start their own business some day. And 3 percent already have created a startup.