The Norman Economic Development Coalition’s inaugural Innovation Challenge awarded young, local entrepreneurs for their ingenuity and hard work Tuesday night.
“We are extremely pleased with the turnout and the community support of these young entrepreneurs. These students did an incredible job, we saw some great business concepts and talent, as well as potential,” NEDC Vice President Maureen Hammond said.
She said NEDC hopes the event will grow and be even better next year as they work to grow and foster entrepreneurship, and Norman seeks to get to know emerging business leaders.
“I think a part of us holding this event was to build some awareness around entrepreneurship,” Hammond said. “I think the community would be surprised at how many young entrepreneurs we have. I think that is exciting and I think that is partially attributed to our institutions and activities taking place.”
Madison Kohout won the Moore Norman Technology Center competition with her presentation about Real Kitchen Salsa.
“I thought it was great. I thought it was challenging at first, but it is supposed to be. It really built me up as a leader the further I got into it. Moore Norman Technology Center prepared me for the challenge,” Kohout said. “If you have the opportunity to do it, you definitely should.”
She has been working with Real Kitchen Salsa for over two years with Loveworks Inc.
A group of middle schoolers from Loveworks also presented a pitch from an internal competition they had won through the organization.
When Kohout and other then-middle schoolers began developing the salsa, they didn’t know how it would expand. Through their efforts, Real Kitchen Salsa went to a development stage. Then they began selling it at the Norman Farm Market, and now it is sold in multiple Norman grocery stores.
“It has really just been fascinating to see the business grow,” Kohout said.
Kohout was one of four MNTC entrepreneurship students who presented their businesses first to the panel of judges earlier in the day during a formal pitch, then at the innovation challenge reception and award ceremony.
All four MNTC students have already launched their businesses. Kohout said the MNTC entrepreneurship program has helped her become a better leader and public speaker, as well as showing her important skills for managing her own business.
“Just getting to know other people in the business world is absolutely crucial,” Kohout said. “It has been absolutely incredible every step of the way.”
The University of Oklahoma Price College of Business presentations were slightly different. These students also presented to a panel of business leaders, but instead of one student presenting their current business, the OU students were in groups and their presentations were styled slightly more after a traditional venture capital pitch, with proposals instead of already operating businesses.
DriveBy was the winner out of the three participating OU teams.
Jarrett Ferguson shared his team’s vision during the 90-second presentation.
“We want to revolutionize the way traffic is monitored to improve safety, not only safety but the value of data we output to municipalities,” said David Gumbert, one of his teammates.
Municipalities currently contract with outside companies to conduct traffic studies. The contractors often use black road tubes that wear out and have to be replaced often. They also need people to often check on the status of these road tubes and collect data onsite.
DriveBy’s traffic measuring system allows contractors to remotely collect data and change the monitoring method, cutting down on costs and providing quicker, fuller data collection.
“It is a three semester class but we didn’t technically start this program until August of this year, so it has taken us a lot of time. We’ve spent hours working on this,” said Abby Biggs, another teammate.
Carly Norwood, the fourth DriveBy teammate, said the Innovation Challenge was a good opportunity for students and younger, local entrepreneurs to gain experience and pitch their ideas to important members of the community.
“I think it went well; we had plenty of practice. We already five of those similar-type pitches earlier this semester, as well,” Ferguson said. “I think we’ve had really good direction from both our professors and the judges that have critiqued us throughout the semester.”
The DriveBy team doesn’t graduate at the same time, so they are still trying to decide what their next step will be moving forward and if they want to actually launch their business.
“If you’re a young entrepreneur looking to start a business, go out there and take the leap. Find some mentors like we’ve had and been blessed with throughout the way,” Gumbert said.