NORMAN — The third annual University of Oklahoma Entrepreneurship Expo will look a little different this year.
While the expo would normally be held at the university’s Tom Love Innovation Hub, this year’s expo will be held virtually from Nov. 16-18 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though virtual, the expo will provide innovators with networking opportunities, a chance to receive feedback on their business ideas and the opportunity to compete for prizes.
Applicants looking to compete in the expo will need to upload a 90-second video to YouTube describing their business, and a panel of judges will select videos in multiple divisions to be shared on the OU Expo YouTube channel. The judges will select the best business ideas from the different divisions, which will be highlighted during the final awards ceremony.
Denise Linda Parris, assistant professor of entrepreneurship at OU's Price College of Business, said through an online format, the event will not only increase the reach of the event, but will have the potential to expand the promotion, networking and feedback for ideas from innovators of all ages.
“One of the benefits is this is a great way to promote and test an idea and based on the amount of interest, [the panel] will reach out to them,” Parris said. “We have six divisions — five pre-seed and one seed representing divisions for all ages starting at kindergarten all the way to adults.”
One of the exhibitors who has seen their idea grow since last year’s expo is Aaron Kruger, CEO and founder of Draft Badge, a mobile application that allows users to keep their state-issued ID on their phone.
The 2019 OU alumna has since raised $80,000, and his team is expected to launch the beta of Draft Badge in December, Kruger said.
The contactless mobile ID for alcohol transactions can be used at locations like bars, stadiums, grocery and liquor stores, but Kruger said the app will help limit merchant liability.
“With our system, we are able to track how much someone does consume and we can set limits on that,” Kruger said. “A venue manager can actually limit how much the people within his venue can consume, limiting liability, reducing risk of over-consumption, which is a huge issue.”
The Entrepreneurship Expo was the first time Kruger and his team announced themselves as Draft Badge, and Kruger said the experience was valuable in providing a forum for feedback from students, faculty, community members, bar owners and law enforcement.
“There were just a lot of interesting perspectives that allowed us to come back and look at our concept from a different lens, which I think was amazing,” Kruger said. “Plus, [we were] able to meet and talk with other entrepreneurs in the area, so I will take that opportunity anywhere I can get it.”
Chris Aguilar presented at the expo in the past and competed in the adult category. He represented Helix GG Consulting as the CEO of the esports consulting agency. Since then, he has taken the knowledge and experience he gained to team up with Chad Ford and Connor Knudsen as co-founders of Equinox Esports.
“Now, with YouTube and Twitch viewership, esports is blowing up, and is becoming something that you want to take seriously,” Aguilar said. “We want to make sure that we cater to all audiences, and getting the youth interest is very important.”
Aguilar said the expo helped him to better network and see what other people were doing. He conversed with people of all ages about their ideas and his.
“It was really nice to talk with people and educate them how things are moving in this space,” Aguilar said. “The expo helped me [learn] a way where I could market esports to people, and not just rattle off stuff that no one would know what I was saying.”
Michael Hurst is executive director of Loveworks Leadership, a local organization that primarily works with middle school students to provide opportunities through hands-on experiences to discover their passion.
Two years ago, Loveworks displayed its new product Wrist World at the expo. Now, the company sells its augmented reality wristbands in over 60 stores. Another student’s company Kid Kitchen, which was created over four years ago, now has its product in 10 stores across the Oklahoma City metro area.
Michael Hurst, executive director of Loveworks Leadership, said the expo helped the students in the program develop important entrepreneurial skills.
“Both of those businesses have been participants in the expo in the past and will be participating in the virtual one this year,” Hurst said. “I think the expo is playing a big part in our community to see Norman become a robust community that offers opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs.”
Applications are free, open to the public and available online at price.ou.edu/ouexpo. The application deadline is Oct. 30, and participating exhibitors will be announced Nov. 6. A virtual awards ceremony is planned for Nov. 19.