Unleash Your Big Idea

For the entrepreneurs who participate in Mayor Kathy Taylor’s Tulsa Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, sponsored by SpiritBank and in a strategic partnership with Tulsa Business Journal, the results are life- and career-changing.
Local entrepreneurs submit their business ideas in the form of a two-page executive summary and, if they’re chosen as one of 25 semi-finalists, they receive not only a chance to compete for a $30,000 cash prize from SpiritBank, but also invaluable coaching, guidance and advice from some of Tulsa’s seasoned and most successful entrepreneurs.
And that, they say, is worth more than all the money in the city.
“I think it was really an invaluable experience. The advice we got and the coaching we got helped us hone our message and fine-tune some points in business plan,” said Melanie Henry, co-founder, along with Deedra Determan, of 918moms.com.
“The competition provided honest, productive feedback that really pushed our business to the next level,” she said.
Henry and Determan submitted their business plan to the 2008 Spirit Award and 918moms.com was chosen as one of 12 semi-finalists.
As evidence of their success, the pair was chosen for this year’s 40 Under 40 (see insert).
Executive summaries are due to www.tulsaspiritaward.com by May 15, and by June 4, the 11 Spirit Award judges will have whittled them down to 25 whom they will ask to submit a full business plan.
As Adrienne Kallweit, CEO and founder of Seeking Sitters and first-prize winner of the 2007 contest said at this year’s kick off event, “Our executive summary had spelling errors. You don’t even have to spell everything correctly; just submit your idea.”
What You Win
The entrepreneurs who participated in past Spirit Award contests and spoke to Tulsa Business Journal all said that, if it weren’t for the Spirit Award, their businesses would not have grown and developed in the ways that they have.
Even just a year later, past participants are growing their companies far beyond what they imagined when they first started.
Tiffany Bjorlie, owner of Lundeby’s Eco Baby, 3638 S. Peoria, and third-place winner of the 2008 contest is implementing strategies suggested to her by TESA coaches. She’s expanding her inventory to include both kids and baby items, seeking exclusivity on products that sell well and physically expanding her store in a larger space down the street in Center1 this week.
“They (TESA judges) broaden your horizons and challenge you to push the envelope and really apply yourself. They challenge you to really think about what you’re doing, what you want to do and how to do it better,” said Bjorlie.
Bjorlie said participating in the award made her look more realistically at her business’s financial plan and to consider opportunities she wouldn’t have otherwise.
Ned Bruha, vice president of the Skunk Whisperer, 2007 Spirit Award third-place winner and outspoken proponent for the award said, though his company didn’t win any money, “the Spirit Award helped us toward making a huge difference in our bank account.”
“The benefit is we don’t get any sleep, we don’t get to see our friends anymore and we don’t know what weekends are anymore. That word is not in our vocabulary anymore, thanks to the Tulsa Spirit Award,” Bruha said.
More than Money
“I think the money’s hard to ignore,” said Grocio.com founder and 2008 Spirit Award winner Gerald Buckley. “But I think that (just competing for the money) would be losing sight of some of the other very compelling reasons to get into it: The coaching, networking, tightening up of business plan, the probing questions seasoned business people going to ask that can only serve to help an entrant.”
Buckley said would-be participants shouldn’t be nervous about submitting their idea to Spirit Award judges.
“It’s not an intimidating thing. Take my word for it,” said Buckley. “If not willing to take this step, chances are good your business is not going to take off. If you’re scared of this, wait until you start your business. You’re going to be terrified. This is peanuts compared to starting a business.”
“This should be a no-brainer,” Buckley said, “like just walking through a door.”

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