AP NEWS

University of Oklahoma hub gives entrepreneurs business tips

May 5, 2019

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — Every business starts as an idea.

Sometimes they grow from small seeds, others materialize in a flash, but they all had to start somewhere.

Dr. Tom Lumpkin, director of entrepreneurship and economic development at OU’s Price College of Business, said the path to business success begins with vetting that idea.

“They need to start with doing some analysis about whether or not that’s a good opportunity,” he said to The Norman Transcript. “There’s a pretty big space between just having a good idea and having a bona fide business concept that can really turn into something valuable.

“So, the first step is doing some research and some questioning and reaching out to potential customers to see whether or not it’s an idea that other people find attractive.”

He said they may find out that not everyone loves their idea as much as they do. That’s not to say they should give up, he said, but that feedback should help drive them to a better direction.

“What it is is a reason to tweak their idea or to pivot, as they say, to a more well refined idea,” he said. “That’s why I said exploring and testing an idea is the best first step.”

Just getting started may seem a daunting task, and just the first in a long line of them, but Lumpkin said there are a lot of resources available to help, many right here in Norman.

“One of the biggest resources is the Tom Love Innovation Hub here at OU,” he said. “They have programs there, an ongoing basis, where people can meet other entrepreneurs and learn about entrepreneurial journeys and stories. They have, for example, a law clinic where they can get advice on what kind of legal entity they want to set up.”

Lumpkin said the Tom Love Innovation Hub is, more than anything, a gateway to other resources. It’s an access point that’s open to the public, and, like the Norman Chamber of Commerce and the Norman Economic Development Coalition, he said it can be an instrumental aid for startups.

“People there can actually help find the kinds of resources or contacts and networks that are available,” he said. “There really are opportunities to walk into that space and get started on different types of ideas in a very serious way.”

After research and development, Lumpkin said the next steps involve finding customers.

“So, you’ve got a good idea,” he said. “Who is the first person you’re going to go sell it to? Where are you going to find them and what are they going to pay for it?”

Those questions, Lumpkin said, force you to concretize an idea quickly. The next big challenge is getting products out into the marketplace.

“In other words, how are people are going to find out about what you have to offer? That varies greatly across the spectrum,” he said. “Maybe you offer some big, complex thing and you only need to sell five of them a year, like a big piece of medical equipment. But what if it’s a product that you want to get into a grocery store? It can actually be quite challenging to find distribution outlets.

“The internet has been a great boon for that, through Amazon stores and (websites) like Etsy, those are great resources for getting product out but it may not turn into enough sales to have a viable business.”

The final piece, Lumpkin said, is the financing.

“Research shows that the vast majority of funding for startups comes from either personal savings or family and friends’ money,” he said, noting that crowdfunding has exploded just recently.

“If you think about it, to take the crowdfunding step, you’ve pretty much got to have a viable product or service already developed to some extent. That may not be enough for the very, very early stages when you’re just trying to create a prototype.”

While crowdfunding can help with a product-based businesses, Lumpkin said it may be less effective for those looking to open a storefront. And high-tech ventures tend to require more capital than crowdfunding can provide.

“It varies quite a bit across the board depending on the kind of funding you need and the stage of the process you’re in,” he said. “Many businesses have to raise money periodically. Sometimes it starts small and later becomes a more complex kind of demand.”

Martin Holland, owner of Anneal Business Coaching, said his company has experience helping companies get off the ground and with scaling up.

He said there is an extra layer of uncertainty for any startup. The process, he said, starts with establishing a clear vision and success can reasonably be predicted by how well a company operates in four key areas: guiding business, getting business, doing the business, and administering the business.

“For any business, startup or existing, to thrive it has to be at least good in all four of those areas, whether you’re starting a business or Fortune 500, or anything in between,” he said.

Norman is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity, with 11.4% of Normanites reporting as self-employed.

That exceeds the average for communities nationwide and the average for Boulder, Colorado, which, at 9.6%, is no entrepreneurial slouch.

NEDC executive director Maureen Hammond said the low cost of living, quality of life and University of Oklahoma all play a role in that, but there are other forces at work and resources available, as well.

“We have a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem in Norman that has made significant investments in engaging and supporting startups and entrepreneurs over the last several years,” she said. “From the launch of 1 Million Cups, a reimagined incubator program in NEDC’s Startup 405, and OU’s Tom Love Innovation Hub, to new business plan competitions like OU’s Entrepreneurship EXPO and Norman’s Innovation Challenge, our community has made great strides.

“We have a unique opportunity to position Norman as the startup center of Oklahoma if we continue an intentional, collaborative approach in investing in entrepreneurship and removing barriers. Fortunately, we have education institutions like OU and MNTC leading the way and collaborating with community resource providers.”

— Startup 405: NEDC’s entrepreneurship staff and business incubator program, Startup 405 is a business incubator certified by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce that aims to help startup companies grow and develop by providing a supportive environment and access to tools, resources and technical assistance through tailored programming. Clients that are in good standing in the program are qualified for a five-year state business income tax exemption, with an additional five-year exemption for businesses that do a majority of their sales outside of Oklahoma.

— 1 Million Cups: Founded by the Kauffman Foundation, 1 Million Cups is designed to provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn and engage with other startups in an open and supportive environment. Norman’s chapter launched in 2018 as an initiative of NEDC’s Entrepreneurship Council. Meetups take place at 9 a.m. the first Wednesday of each at Mainsite Contemporary Art. The next 1 Million Cups meetup at Mainsite will feature presentations from James Arati, business development coordinator for the Oklahoma Small Business Development Center, and the Wristworld team.

— City Hall: City of Norman Retail Coordinator Sara Kaplan handles permitting and other services and can help businesses navigate city hall. In conjunction with Small Business Week (May 5-11).

— The University of Oklahoma: The Tom Love Innovation Hub, and the Ronnie K. Irani Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth offer many community programs and resources for entrepreneurs.

— Statewide resources: OCAST, Thunder Launchpad, Oklahoma Department of Commerce, and the Small Business Association

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Information from: The Norman Transcript, http://www.normantranscript.com