It all started when Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, a native of Enid, suggested that community leaders in his hometown put together a business competition for entrepreneurs, said Brian Gaddy, center coordinator for the James W. Strate Center for Business Development at Autry Technology Center.
“The lieutenant governor came to Enid and asked us to put together a business plan competition,” Gaddy said. “With his encouragement and with him seeing the value in it, other people in the community saw a value in it. He was a driving force in getting this done in Enid.”
Money was raised to support the plan and for prizes and a competition for emerging entrepreneurs was developed, said Gaddy, who ran the competition for Grow Enid Inc.
“Money was donated by people in the community,” he said.
Contributors included Harold Hamm through Hiland Parners; Paul Allen, one of the founders of Advance Food, and his wife Joan; Lew Ward, chairman of the board of Ward Petroleum; the Enid Regional Development Alliance; the Enid Chamber of Commerce; and the Enid News and Eagle. Sponsors for events during the competition included Oklahoma Natural Gas, Oklahoma Gas and Electric and AT&T.
Competition started in September with an initial boot camp and continued through May. There was a lot of interest.
“The initial boot camp had almost 50 people who signed up,” Gaddy said.
The field of competitors was reduced to eight for semifinals and to five for the finals.
The five finalists had to make presentations before a panel of judges including Deena Fisher, president of Northwestern Oklahoma State University; Wayne McMillin, dean of Northwestern’s Enid campus; Bert Mackie; Tom Evans, manager, Encompass Financial Advisory Services; and Cara Carson, of Private Partners Opportunity Fund.
“The academic people looked at it for competition,” Gaddy said. “Bert and Tom look at it from a financial standpoint.”
And Carson looked at the competition from the view of an aspiring entrepreneur. In 2008, she started a business, Custom Land Management, in the business incubator at the James W. Strate Center for Business Development at Autry Technology Center. After graduating from the business incubator, she joined her father, Evans, and Custom Land Management was folded into Encompass. She is now working with her father in Private Partners Opportunity Fund, an angel venture capital fund.
“We had a good mix of people looking at those plans in different ways,” Gaddy said.
The first-place winner of the competition was Travis Brorsen, owner of Adventures with Travis & Presley, a current client of the business incubator. He received a $10,000 prize and a $5,000 credit for service at the business incubator, Gaddy said.
Second place was awarded to Steve Hughes of Hughes Pharmacy in Medford. Hughes had retired as a pharmacist for Walmart in Enid and had a plan to open his own pharmacy in Medford, north of Enid.
Hughes won $8,000.
Third place went to Tim and Shelly Larsen and their business plan for Privation Printing, an Internet-based T-shirt printing business. They won $5,000.
Brorsen, of Adventures with Travis & Presley, plans to expand his business.
The Travis in Travis and Presley is, of course, Brorsen, a native of Perry. The Presley, his business partner, is a dog – a 5-year old brindle boxer.
Initially the small business operating from the business incubator offered curriculum – books and DVDs developed to teach social skills and manners – for kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. Presley is the star of the books and DVDs.
Brorsen said he plans to use the money from the competition to expand his market. He has a three-part plan for the expansion.
“Our vision for the future is to produce a Saturday morning education kids’ television show,” Brorsen said.
The second part of the expansion is to develop a smartphone application. The third part is to offer the curriculum online.
Adventures with Travis and Presley started operating in the incubator in August 2010 and the limit for clients is three years, so they have more than a year left. As do all clients of the business incubator at Autry Technology Center, Brorsen had to start with a business plan that was reviewed by a committee before he was admitted to the program. And as with a lot of small businesses, there comes a time when the business plan has to be adjusted.
“When we started the product our main goal was public schools,” he said. “But public schools have not been throwing money around lately.”
The initial plan has been helped by sponsorships, he said.
“Local businesses in the communities including banks and car dealerships have underwritten the program for the schools,” he said. “A lot of the businesses say we are teaching the skills they want in their future employees.“
With the help of the money from the competition, Brorsen is expanding his market.
“The money from the competition will help us get started,” he said.
The partnership has already expanded beyond just Travis and Presley.
A 1-year-old white boxer named Pete has joined Travis and Presley.
“We will be bringing him into the program before too long,” Brorsen said.