Inaugural Oklahoma Young Entrepreneur Awards competition a success

Inaugural OYEA competition a success

The University of Tulsa recently hosted the inaugural Oklahoma Young Entrepreneur Awards (OYEA), a competition for innovative Tulsa-area high school students. Teams competed for more than $5,000 in prizes as well as judges’ awards.

To enter OYEA, teams identified a social problem or business opportunity and submitted a proposal for a product or service to meet the need. Proposals included research into the target audience, market analysis, a preliminary financial plan and more. The top 14 teams were invited to present their pitch to a panel of judges at the event on April 8.

TU students Katie Snyder, Dallas Elleman and Steve Neal organized OYEA as part of the NOVA Fellowship that brings together students, faculty and professionals from all majors and backgrounds who are interested in innovation and want to do something unique and meaningful within the community.

TU students visit with Sen. Jim Inhofe during a trip to Washington, D.C.

The team’s organizers spent several months on outreach efforts prior to the competition, visiting area high schools to meet with teachers and students regarding the entry process. OYEA even got a nod from Oklahoma’s congressional delegation when a group of TU students visited Sen. Jim Inhofe and Rep. Jim Bridenstine in Washington, D.C., and received congressional citations for each participant who advanced to the final round of the competition.

Snyder, a senior communications major, says the event exceeded the team’s expectations. “During the planning process, it’s hard to tell whether something will come together like you hope. But, the students showed up to the competition ready to go, with prototypes and presentations rehearsed. We were impressed by how seriously the students took the process, which bodes well for the future of the competition.”

Neal, a senior computer information systems major with a minor in innovation and entrepreneurship, coordinated judges for the competition, which included TU students, faculty and alumni, community leaders and small business owners. “We wanted to select a panel of judges that represented a cross-section of Tulsa’s entrepreneurial community as well as the TU community,” said Neal. “Having the perspective of each facet of the entrepreneurial world allowed for much better insight into the teams’ presentations and made for great feedback to help them improve their processes.”

OYEA participation was limited to Tulsa-area high school students this year, but will expand to include students from across the state in 2018. Cash prizes totaled $5,000, a portion of which went to the winning teams’ advisers for use in the classroom. “The goal for next year is to grow the competition throughout Oklahoma,” said Snyder. “This competition provides a big boost for education right now, and it’s an extra opportunity we could add to the high school curriculum to give students practical, hands-on entrepreneurship experience that you don’t typically get until college.”

Elleman, a junior engineering physics major also minoring in innovation and entrepreneurship said, “The NOVA Fellowship is one of the main reasons I chose TU, and I’ve been a member since my first semester at TU. All of the planning, design, communication, strategy and outreach that we’ve poured into OYEA has not only been a hugely beneficial and rewarding creative project opportunity, but more importantly, has given these high school students a quality experience that would have been difficult to achieve in the classroom.”

Snyder emphasizes the importance of the competition in encouraging students to pursue their dreams. “Seeing the entrepreneurship side of things was new for many of these students, and it’s experience many of them didn’t have prior to OYEA,” she said. “We are sending feedback from the judges to all of the teams so they can learn from this competition and improve in the future and use it in other instances if they want to pursue these ideas. A few of the ideas really have long-term potential, which is exciting since these students are still in high school. It’s an excellent time in your life to be an entrepreneur.”

Elleman added, “Throughout and after the competition, I talked to students who were excited to tell me how much they were learning about innovation and entrepreneurship, and how much fun they were having. That’s the type of experience we set out to create and that we want to continue each year.”

“Of course, none of this would have been possible without the NOVA Fellowship at TU and the leadership of Professor Charles Wood,” said Neal. “Every TU student who is involved in NOVA understands the time and devotion that Dr. Wood dedicates, ensuring that the projects created and managed by the team are as successful as they can be. His unrelenting drive and commitment to the students is unparalleled, and we couldn’t do any of this without him, in addition to the generous benefactors who support the NOVA Fellowship.”

2017 OYEA Results

First Place
Tulsa Tech STEM Academy – Team Water Wagon
Team members: Antonio Santiago, Dillon Wingo, Jarett Martin and Joe Paul Crowl Faculty mentor: Denise Kimblern

Second Place
Broken Arrow High School – Team Food For Tulsa
Solo member: Malachi Bouch
Faculty mentor: Stuart Crouch
Bouch also received a Best Presenter Award

Third Place
Booker T Washington – Team Vendr
Team members: Jayro Esparza, Jaden Obrien, Jacob Thomas, Beau Phillips and Jose Velazquez
Faculty mentor: Robert Wakely

Honorable Mention
Tulsa Tech STEM Academy – Team Phone Phloats
Team members: Cheyanne Wheat, Danielle Thomson, Megan West and Brock Hogan Faculty mentor: Denise Kimblern

Honorable Mention
Booker T Washington – Team Bee Innovative
Team members: Dawn Rose, Zane Wood and Alana Ziegler
Faculty Mentor: Robert Wakely
Team member Alana Ziegler also received a Best Presenter award

Honorable Mention and Make It Happen Award
Central High School – Team Cutter Crew
Team members: Daniel Goodroad, Devin Warren, Brittney Mercer and Brent Robling
Faculty mentor: John White

Make It Happen Award
Tulsa Tech STEM Academy – Team Safer Barriers
Team members: Grant Elliott, Nevin Subramanian, Nolan Cochran and Dylan Bradley
Faculty mentors: Denise Kimblem, Shea Ferrell