For the past several months, the 2013 Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup Collegiate Business Plan Competition has been building to a dramatic crescendo.
Following a series of remarkable oral presentations last weekend, 18 teams, six in each of the three divisions — Graduate and Undergraduate High Growth and Small Business — were named as Governor's Cup finalists.
Those finalists are excited and filled with a contagious sense of accomplishment.
Individually, they have stepped out well beyond their comfort zones. Marketing students learned finance. Engineers experienced the importance of talking to customers. Business students learned how to evaluate advanced technologies.
As teams, they developed business plans that more than passed muster with multiple panels of judges. They demonstrated that they can articulate and defend a compelling financial case. They learned about the tenacity and flexibility required to start up a company.
Students will sometimes say, perhaps with some truth, that academia is academia and not the real world. As Lowell Busenitz — Ph.D. and academic director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at OU and multiyear team adviser — observed, the Governor's Cup competition turns that on its head.
“From a professor's standpoint, instead of me saying, ‘you need to do this,' a business plan competition like the Governor's Cup brings in venture capitalists, angels and experienced entrepreneurs as judges,” Busenitz said. “They set the bar for a legitimate plan and arguments of why a venture might be successful and where it's going to have challenges. It is no longer what the professor says, it's what the external market and real-world judges bring to the table.”
Busenitz, who is also professor of entrepreneurship and management at OU, sees the Governor's Cup as external validation of what he and other professors are teaching in class. “We're trying not just to teach about entrepreneurship,” he said. “We want the students to think about how they might actually start up a venture and know that it has validity going forward.”
That's one lesson learned through the Governor's Cup.
Another lesson is the real-world connection between entrepreneurship and significant tangible rewards. Governor's Cup teams realize that firsthand as they compete for more than $290,000 in cash, scholarships and fellowships.
The 2013 winners will be announced Thursday evening at the celebratory gala. They will leave the event with more than $150,000 in cash awards.
That firsthand experience of the financial benefits of the entrepreneurial path makes an impression — the type of impression that shapes a career.
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.
DID YOU KNOW?
Since inception, the Oklahoma Governor's Cup has awarded more than $1.2 million in cash, scholarships, and fellowships.