Mary Fallin

Oklahoma summit creates winning mix of entrepreneurial 'how-to,' networking

October 22, 2013
By Scott Meacham, President and CEO of i2E Inc

When it comes to building a vibrant, self-sustaining entrepreneurial economy, there's the “how,” and then there's the “what” — how do you do it, and what it takes to succeed.

Oklahomans received an excellent taste of both earlier this month at our state's inaugural Entrepreneurial Summit.

We blended the annual Who Wants to Be an Entrepreneur for college students with unique content for our state's best and brightest entrepreneurs into an exciting new format.

Gov. Mary Fallin set the tone with the capacity crowd of more than 270 students and entrepreneurs, telling the story of her own son's experience in the Governor's Cup Business Plan Competition.

We offered three tracks. There was high growth and small business for the students, and a separate track specifically crafted for in-the-trenches entrepreneurs.

Bob Dorf, serial entrepreneur and co-author of the best-seller “The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company,” delivered practical advice to both groups.

His message: Of the many, many items on every entrepreneur's very long list of things to do, talking to potential customers comes first.

The program was successful beyond our expectations. With the governor weighing in on the side of new business creation and an expert like Bob, who literally wrote the book, delivering practical, useful direction, attendees' high marks for content weren't a surprise.

What we didn't quite anticipate were the incredible connections that occurred so naturally between the college students, who came because they are considering entrepreneurship as a viable career path, and the entrepreneurs who have already chosen that path.

At lunch, we assigned entrepreneurs and others from Oklahoma's economic development organizations to be table hosts. We gave the students a list of who was at each table and a little information about their background.

That's all it took.

It was really cool seeing students from all over the state mixing with Oklahoma's entrepreneurial community. The students didn't hang back. They made beelines to the entrepreneurs, who, it turned out, were just as impressed with the students as students were with the entrepreneurs.

Watching the students go from table to table and the entrepreneurs moving around reaching out to more and more of the kids was inspiring. They didn't want to leave.

Technology, risk capital, and market share are all critical to an expanding innovation economy — but nothing is more important than entrepreneurial passion and talent.

In that regard, Oklahoma has once again struck pay dirt.

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 [email protected]

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