Lessons Learned

The top 12 semi-finalists chosen to continue in Mayor Kathy Taylor’s Tulsa Entrepreneurial Spirit Award were announced last week (see related story, this page), which means that 13 of the top 25 participants did not advance.
Tulsa Business Journal caught up with a few of those to find out what their plans are post-competition and how TESA impacted their businesses.
Tonya Williams, partner to Regina Collins in Beaute Purpose, a distributor of natural health and skin care products for men, women and babies, available at Natural Farms, 6560 E. 91st St., said that the competition has positively impacted her business model.
“We learned how to approach other investors,” she said. “We’re going to keep going — little steps at a time to get to where we need to be.”
The top 25 competitors were required to submit complete business plans and also present a seven-minute pitch to Spirit Award judges.
Williams said, during the pitching round, she and Collins received good feedback from the judges.
“Everything went well,” she said.
As a result, she and Collins have revamped their financial plan and will continue to seek investors for their business, Williams said.
“I’m not sad about not moving on in the competition because I know we did a good job presenting to the judges,” Williams said. “Maybe they thought we had everything under control, and that we don’t need the help.”
C.C. Lawhon, founder of Guru-YOU!, a motivational self-help center, said that she also thought her pitch went well and that she’ll continue on with her business plan.
“Most of the businesses that continued in the competition are pretty well under way,” Lawhon said. “I gathered that this means that I needed to get toward more of an implemental stage with my company.”
Lawhon said that she designed the business plan for Guru-YOU! that she submitted to TESA around the competition’s standards and that, as she moves the plan forward, she’ll likely focus less on Tulsa and more on developing her company nationwide.
While she had planned, if Guru-YOU! won the Spirit Award, to open a “SpiritCenter” in Tulsa, she told TBJ that she’ll now look at possibly opening the center somewhere on the West Coast, “where that kind of thinking is more prominent.”
Like Williams, Lawhon said the Spirit Award helped her recognize weaknesses in her financial plan and to understand how to better approach investors.
Lawhon plans to continue counseling and conducting focus groups and leadership and creativity workshops in Tulsa.
One complaint about the award process and judging round that Lawhon offered was that she “didn’t receive any feedback.”
“I didn’t get any feedback as to what I could have done better or differently, and I was surprised at that,” Lawhon said. “I thought they would at least tell us why those businesses (the top 12) moved forward and ours didn’t.”
Spirit Award Chair Sean Griffin said it would be impossible to sit down with each of the entrepreneurs and go over who made it, who didn’t and why, but he did offer some reasoning to TBJ.
“All of the businesses that didn’t make it to the semi-final round have potential. They have the basic foundation for starting a business. Either they didn’t have the team or they weren’t open or didn’t express a desire to move their businesses to a different level,” he said.
Businesses that seemed limited in their growth potential or unrealistic about their financial capabilities didn’t move forward, he said.
Griffin said that every pitch was well-delivered and that the judging round also served as a coaching round, as judges pried into the contestants’ business plans to determine what potential their ideas had.
The entrepreneurs who didn’t move forward, Griffin said, either didn’t have a team capable of executing the business strategy, didn’t clearly articulate their business models or didn’t show financial viability and/or the ability to grow.
“I don’t want, in any way, to dissuade someone from starting a business or pursuing their passion,” Griffin said. “All of the businesses that didn’t make it should persevere and move forward.”
His advice to those companies was to “Set milestones, in three-month increments, and evaluate them. If you’re not hitting your milestones, figure out what you need to do differently.
“Create an advisory team of people who don’t agree with you, who will challenge you and poke holes in your business plan.
“And have an effective fund raising plan. Create a network of funding sources, starting with your family and friends. Tap those resources and connections, but make sure you’re ready to pitch. Practice with other people within a day or two of making your pitch.”
For profiles on all of the entrepreneurs competing in the competition (who agreed to press coverage), read TBJ’s July 6 issue at www.tulsabusiness.com.

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